It was the summer of some year, and I was a certain age (let’s say seven or eight, because I honestly don’t remember and it’s not super important). My sister, mom, and I were out in Ohio, visiting relatives like we did every year, and I had just agreed to help my uncle harvest potatoes from his garden.
It was the single biggest mistake of my young life.
The sun was scorching. The rows stretched on into infinity. We were moving with all the speed of a narcoleptic caterpillar. Time itself had ground to a halt. I was Sisyphus, and this was my boulder.
Finally, after digging up what I can only estimate to be at least two or three potatoes, fortune smiled on me. From the back porch, my aunt called to my uncle—someone was on the phone for him and could he please come and get it.
This was my chance. As soon as his back was turned, I bolted. I made my way to the basement, where I found my dear, sweet, caring mother. Surely she would understand. Surely she would grant me sanctuary from this never ending purgatory in which I was trapped.
I was wrong. So very, very wrong. Instead of rescuing me, she unreasonably insisted that I go back out and finish the job. Somehow she’d gotten it into her head that just because I’d agreed to help, I was under some sort of obligation to follow through and finish what I’d started.
I couldn’t believe it. Betrayed by my own mother, and with nowhere else to turn, I trudged my way back to the endless garden and accepted my fate. It was miserable; absolutely miserable. We must have been out there for a full half hour.
I know. I know what you must be thinking—but no, that is not an exaggeration. It may have even taken 45 minutes.
Traumatic as it was, though, I think I learned a valuable lesson from the whole experience:
Don’t start something you’re not willing to finish.
I’d made a commitment. I’d agreed to lend a hand. But once I saw the amount of work involved—once I saw how long it was going to take, how unpleasant it was going to be—I wanted out. I wanted to jump ship and go do something fun, but my mom, to her credit and my chagrin, wasn’t having any of it.
It didn’t seem like it at the time, but my mom was looking out for me. Being sent back to the garden felt like a punishment, but today I can look back and see how she was helping me to learn the importance of a commitment. If she had let me walk away, I would have completely missed out on a valuable lesson—one that’s stayed with me my whole life since then.
Turns out that lesson is a core Biblical principle, too. Christ asked, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?” (Luke 14:28-30).
Following Christ is a big commitment—and a long one at that. “The rest of eternity” long. And there are going to be moments during this physical life that will feel like my half hour of potato harvesting—miserable moments that seem to drag on forever, moments that scream, “Why are you still here? Why are you still doing this? It’s not worth it!” And in those moments, if we’re looking for it, we’ll always find the opportunity to walk away. To bolt. To leave the work undone and go do something more enjoyable.
Those moments matter.
More importantly, what we do in those moments matter. Because we’ve made a commitment—and “no one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
As others have noted, it’s impossible to plow a straight line if we’re looking over our shoulder. If we’re going to take the trouble to hitch up the oxen and begin plowing a row, we’re only wasting our time if we’re not willing to focus with laser-like intensity on what’s ahead of us. Anything less ends with a crooked row and wasted effort.
The real question to be asking is, “Why bother making a commitment at all?” For me, the answer is in the book of Romans. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Yes, sometimes we’re going to have small potato moments. Sometimes we’re going to experience inconvenience and frustration and moments when we’d rather be doing something else, anything else. And sometimes we’re going to go through moments of true darkness—trials that push us far beyond what we thought we could handle and into places where our deepest convictions are challenged and even shaken.
Paul says—Paul, who was stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and left for dead on some of his better days—Paul says not to worry, because what God has in store for us is going to drown out those moments of darkness in a sea of light so incredible, you’re not going to bother even trying to compare the two.
That’s why we put our hand to the plow. That’s why we set out to build the tower. It’s a commitment, yes, and it’s going to cost us—sometimes dearly—but we’re moving toward something that God Himself promises will make every moment along the way more than worth it.
Brothers and sisters, we’re headed toward the Kingdom of God. Let’s not lose sight of that for the sake of a few small potatoes.
Until next time,