A thick, cool mist hung in the Georgia pines in the wake of a daylong rainstorm and a spell of sweltering heat before that.
Cruising through the brush in a back-and-forth symphony of neatly choreographed movement, two English pointers glided into a statuesque pose with a covey of quail just inches beneath their noses.
With the pointers locked in point, tails skyward like flagpoles, the curly haired Boykin strutted in with all the bravado of a major league closer, for he is in fact “The Closer.” The hunting guide, conducting his canine orchestra with whistle instead of baton, called out to the The Closer, “Get ‘em up Deke!” Like he always does, Deke got those bobwhites up, setting off a flurry of shotgun blasts and a bit of South Georgia snowfall. Feathers descended as The Closer collected his well-earned quail and laid it at the feet of his master.
What strikes me about this whole rhythmic dance is the visible joy in the movement and countenance of the gun dogs. Wrapped up in that for which they were made, they cannot help but exude enthusiasm, the pleasure apparent in every wag of the tail and retrieve of the bird. There’s no sense in which they are disinterested or disillusioned, and it is they, not their masters, who beg to be turned loose in the field.
Life for a gun dog is relatively simple: it finds pleasure in living out its created purpose, which is hunting. Rather than being enslaving and burdensome, this obedience to master and fulfillment of natural purpose breeds energetic life, both for the dog and for the hunter. To witness a dog fully engaged in the hunt is to be inspired—it is life giving and pleasure filled. The dog knows and accepts his role, which gives him peace and pleasure in what he does. He lives for his master’s pleasure and his own, which are one.
Through entangled webs of busyness, distraction and misplaced devotion, we humans easily and often lose sight of that kind of simplicity and unadulterated pleasure in purposeful living. We make life harder than it has to be. Rather than focusing on what we love and spending our days doing what we were each made to do—stuff we probably knew by the time we were 12 years old—we waste our time trying to be what we’re not, motivated by things that make big promises but leave us empty. We’re each a bit like bird dogs chasing cars down the highway—doomed to disappointment so long as we stray from the things we were made for.
The long ride home
As we rode horseback to the road and vehicle, Rodney Atkins’ song, “A Man on a Tractor,” came to mind. It’s worth repeating:
I woke up the same way this mornin’
Like a stranger in my own life
Tired and confused with too much to do
Nothin’ left for my kids and my wife
Oh, I clung to that first cup of coffee
Praying, ‘God, won’t you show me whats real?’
Then out in the distance I saw through the window
A man on a tractor with a dog in a field
Oh, the dog walked just like he was smilin’
The man drove like the world was all right
The tractor hummed on like a part of a song
That you sing to your children at night
His work was laid out there before him
In rows of green his whole life was revealed
Oh, what I wouldn’t give if I could just live
Like a man on a tractor with a dog in a field
Let me do what Im doin’, let me be where I am
Let me find peace of mind on my own piece of land
When I’m lost help me to let it go and find some way to feel
Like a man on a tractor with a dog in a field.
There are a lot of interests that pull us in a lot of different directions, and if we don’t regularly evaluate our life we’ll be tossed this way and that until, like the man in the song, we’re tired, confused and burned out. As he watches the man and dog joyfully at work in the field, he sees a picture of peace, for each is given to that which he was made to do.
living at peace
In order to live with peaceful resolution in our vocation(s), there are at least three things we need to reflect deeply on. First, we need to see that life isn’t something we design or control; it’s given to us, and we are only a small part of the creation. God made you and I for a purpose.
As Psalm 104 says, it was God who created the world, stretched out the heavens and set the sun to run its course by day and the moon by night. He dropped man into the fray to work the land and husband the animal, to go out early and return in the evening from his labors (104:23). Even the sun knows its place and time for setting (v. 19), and it runs its course with joy (Ps. 19:5). As Solomon said, “To accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).
Second, we have to know our identity, both in the general human sense and in the individual, specific sense. In the broader sense, we are all made by God to reflect his glory, and we do this by fearing Him and laboring to cultivate and protect the earth and our families. Men marry women, who have babies and fill the earth with God-fearing and productive laborers. We each provide for our own, raise our children, and use our skills to serve others. We do it all for the glory of God, and the net gain is pleasure in our work.
In the personal sense, we each have been given specific gifts, skills and talents that we’re expected to employ in the service of others. This means we have to work hard at figuring out what we’re good at and then pursue the development of those skills. In God’s wisdom there are pastors, carpenters, farmers, welders, electricians, architects, engineers, writers, artists and shop keepers. We’re happiest in labor when we discipline ourselves and strive to use our own unique gifts to benefit others and provide for our families.
The dog, knowing and accepting his role, is made happier by the refinement of his skills. The more skilled he is at hunting, pointing and retrieving, the happier his employment is. To the extent he “sticks to his guns,” he’s relatively happy. We’re the same way. When we stick to God’s general plan and our specific calling(s), we’re generally happy with our work. It requires a lifelong commitment to the things that matter most to us, the things that bring us back to life.
Third and finally, living at peace with our toil requires that we avoid the pitfalls and distractions of a wayward life. We go astray when we abandon the general purpose of our lives (monogamous, heterosexual marriage; providing materially for your family; contributing to neighbor and community) and when we trade our God-given vocation(s) for things like the love of money, wealth, an easy life, prestige in the eyes of others, affluence, and the like.
Instead of living with integrity and being true to our calling, we become counterfeits, sellouts, hypocrites. We work jobs we despise because the money or power or prestige they bring us is the main draw. We never stop to ask if our work is useful or productive or good, or if it’s merely exploitive.
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift” — STeve prefontaine
At least once a week I have to reevaluate and assess my life and how I’ve spent my time, money and energy investments. Have I given myself to the the things I’ve deemed essential, or have I drifted off course because I was chasing whatever seemed urgent? Have I spent at least a portion of time cultivating my essential skills and passions? Do my personal investments (time, money, thought) reflect the essentials of my calling (Christian, father, husband, writer, etc.)? Where do I need to say “no” or cut back on non-essentials?
At the end of the day, I want to live like that dog in the field: full of purpose, enthusiasm and joy.