Powell Gardens, outside Kansas City, covers some 970 acres. Tanner, a teenage worker there, set out to mow the whole thing–with a push mower. Perhaps that’s not completely accurate, but yesterday, when Penny and I visited this lovely place for our 37th anniversary, we saw this young man (who might have been named Tanner) mowing a wide border of grass around a large swath of vegetable rows. Given the rain that Kansas City has enjoyed in recent weeks, the grass was thick and tall. Tanner would have plenty of mowing to keep him busy all day.
I stood and watched Tanner for a couple of minutes. He shoved his mower into the tall grass. You could hear the engine start to struggle. After a couple of steps, the grass would bunch up and stop the blade, killing the engine. Tanner’s shoulders rose and fell as he drew a heavy breath. Then, without even pulling the mower back to get away from the problem, he began jerking on the starter rope.
When, after several difficult pulls, he succeeded in restarting the mower, he’d repeat this process. As I stood there, I saw him clog and start at least four times, having covered perhaps 15 feet of grass.
I wanted to offer Tanner some advice, suggesting that he only cut a narrow swath with each pass, that he set the wheels to maximum height and then move them to mow it again lower, or at least that he only mow in the direction that threw the cut grass away from the uncut.
Of course all of these strategies would have involved much more walking. Instead, Tanner opted to rely on his own strength and endless pulls on the starter rope. He might still be there this morning, mowing the grass six feet at a go.
Sometimes the best way to do things is a way that makes no sense to us in our flesh. All those things Jesus teaches about turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor, and going the second mile seem to fly in the face of logic. Then try out this instruction from Exodus 23:11-12:
Sow your land for six years and gather its produce. But during the seventh year you are to let it rest and leave it uncultivated, so that the poor among your people may eat from it and the wild animals may consume what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
So God is telling an agricultural people to willingly give up more than 14% of the productivity of their land. You might as well ask Apple to only sell iPhones six years out of seven. When you have a productive asset, you want to use it! But God’s way, perhaps especially when it runs against human sense, is the best way.
I wouldn’t suggest that my mowing advice for Tanner was God’s way, but don’t we all behave like Tanner now and again. We might hear the counsel of God, but we know that our own way is more efficient, more effective. Instead of following God’s plan, we shove our mower into the tall grass and rely on our own strength. Yes, we sometimes get the job done that way, but what other opportunities do we miss when we mow like Tanner?