Shepherds, work, and the interruption of burning bushes.

I have it on good authority that farmers work hard and I’m sure shepherds are no different, which is what makes Moses’ story all the more interesting. Some say bushes that spontaneously burn aren’t all that rare in the Sinai area, although that appears to be debunked here. Regardless, the fact that another bush was burning was perhaps more of a distraction than an attraction for Moses.

I have limited experience with sheep. The farm where Eva and I are currently living has three sheep and last week, while the family was away on vacation, we had to take care of said sheep. It isn’t all that hard — we had to take them out to the pasture in the morning, move them around during the day, and return them to their pen at night. It sounds simple but it was a little more involved than that. We had to make sure the sheep made it to their mobile pen in the pasture, a process that involves dragging them past much more appealing foliage to the foliage that we had chosen for them. It also sometimes involves chasing and catching said sheep to make sure they go where we wanted them to go. We also had to carry a 5 gallon bucket of water out to them and make sure that they stayed watered. When the grass in their moveable pen was consumed we needed to move them to a new location, sometimes ensuring that they had some shade. Daniel usually brought them in at night and his technique was running as fast as possible beside them so that they remained focussed on the destination rather than all the sweet grasses along the way.

I also recently watched Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime. In the show, Jeremy Clarkson takes over his farm when his previous manager retired. The show follows him along as he learns the ropes on what it takes to run a farm in Britain. One aspect to Clarkson’s farm is sheep and there are several episodes devoted to what it means to farm sheep, including being up at all hours to birth them, making sure that the mothers and lambs are all caring for each other while in the pasture, and moving them to a new pasture without them getting into the neighbour’s fields.

It is a lot of work for those of us caring for just a few sheep. How much more a traditional shepherd with a full-size herd that she needs to keep track of? [Just as an aside, did you know that Rachel is one of the few named shepherds in the Bible? Check out her story in Genesis 29]

Which leads us to the question, “Why would a busy guy like Moses take the time to go see the burning bush?” What made him realise that it wasn’t merely a distraction and was something work making him take time out of his busy schedule? The Bible doesn’t say a lot about Moses’ thought process other than to say, “I must go over there and see this strange sight.” There was something strange that attracted his attention.

Moses’ situation reminds me to ask myself if I pay attention to “strange sights” in my day-to-day life that may be God’s attempts to get my attention. [Note that God will always eventually get my attention, as I have written about here.] In what ways does my busyness keep me from opportunities to encounter God? How do I distinguish distraction from a God-encounter? Are distractions in fact invitations from God?

I guess one type of distraction is internet use. But while some of the things that we encounter on the internet may be strange, this type of distraction can’t be labelled a “strange sight” in the way Moses labelled the burning bush. The burning bush got Moses’ attention while he was doing other things that he normally did. It pulled him away from the usual into the unusual. So sorry, we can’t use Moses as an excuse for always being on the internet.

Another type of distraction is escapist fiction. Who doesn’t love a great story that takes you away from your present life and allows you to live in a virtual world of adventure, excitement, and love? I am currently enjoying Burrough’s John Carter series. But yet again, this is a type of distraction that we bring upon ourselves and is not the type of distraction that God introduces into our loves for his purposes.

I suspect the kinds of distractions that God tries are things that distract us from our distractions. Some distractions are actually a call back to the real world. They interrupt our escapes and bring us back to reality. That’s what the burning bush did for Moses after all.

Once, many years ago, while I was talking to a friend, my daughter came up to me because she wanted to show me her new dress. Did I look at her new dress? No. I saw what she was doing as a distraction from what I was doing. If I had it to do over again I would say, Excuse me, to my friend and take a look at Emily’s new dress. Perhaps God was saying, “Pay attention to your family.”

What I my response when someone talks to me while I am watching a TV show? Do I see it as an interruption or a call to engage with someone in real life? What is my response when I and deeply thinking about the solution to a problem and my wife approaches me with a solution? Am I reminded that we are a team and can work things out together, or do I feel interrupted? What about when someone offers me constructive criticism? Do I see it as a change to improve or as a challenge to my abilities? I must confess that I often get these kinds of things wrong.

So what types of distractions have turned into God encounters for you?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image Sandeep Kr Yadev on Unsplash.

What is the life lesson I taught my kids every day?

As a Father, I wanted to teach my kids a valuable lesson that would help them later in life. A lesson that would help them through good times and hard times. A lesson that they would remember forever.

Of course, I taught them about Jesus and the Bible and tried to instil in them a love for God. But there was one phrase that I said to them as much as possible — so many times in fact that they remember it today. It’s actually a little bit of a family joke — as families often joke about their fathers. But every time they joke about it I am secretly pleased because I know that they have learned the lesson!

What was the lesson that I chose to repeat over and over again while they were growing up? “Life is rough.”

I wanted to contrast the popular fairy tale ending of “And they lived happily ever after,” because sometimes that isn’t true. Life isn’t always happy and orderly — it’s sometimes messy. Hence, “Life is rough.”

One question my family sometimes asks is, “Why is that the life lesson you wanted us to learn?” Let me begin by saying what the statement isn’t.

“Life is rough” isn’t “suck it up.” Suck it up means to suppress emotions while undergoing hardship. Something I have learned over the years (and after years of suppressing them) is that emotions are good. The only emotion that I allowed myself to express in the past was anger, and it took me a long time to get that under some semblance of control. Anger isn’t bad in and of itself but the way I expressed it was. I suspect that that kind of anger is what sucking it up eventually leads to. I don’t want that for my kids.

“Life is rough” isn’t “Life’s rough and then you die.” This was a popular phrase when I was growing up and it speaks directly to the hopelessness that we often feel in life. But it provides no motivation to change; no motivation to make things better. In fact one could argue that it expresses mere fatalism, as in, “Don’t bother doing anything more because you are only going to die in the end anyways.” That isn’t a value I wanted my kids to have.

“Life is rough” isn’t “Man up.” One of the most basic reasons why I didn’t choose this as my go to advice is simply because my eldest is a girl. But beyond that, the call to Man up implies that there is a standardised masculine norm that kids somehow have to figure out in order to succeed in life. This is in fact not true. Raewyn Connell’s groundbreaking book Masculinities teaches us that there are a variety of masculinities that each of us can choose from as we shape our own masculinities (and femininities I suppose). Quite often there is one masculinity that takes over — called hegemonic masculinity — but this one dominant form is my no means the only valid masculinity. While Man up is a call to act like a man, it also represents a hegemonic masculinity where men must fit into a specific mold. I don’t want my kids to fit into a mold.

So if Life is Rough isn’t one of these things then what is it?

Life is rough is a call to live a life that rolls with the punches. A life that sees hardship not as something unique and rare but something that helps a person grow into a someone stronger. It’s a call to a life lived solving problems creatively. It’s a call to struggle for something bigger and better than onesself. Life is Rough is an acknowledgment that even though things may not always go your way, you can learn to navigate through it and come out the other end. Life is Rough is a life lived with meaning. That’s the kind of life I want my kids to live. And finally life is rough is a realisation that life isn’t always rough so enjoy those times when they come too!

What life lessons have you taught your kids?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.