Last summer, my son asked me if I could take him fishing down at the river near where we live. He had done this a few times with my father-in-law, but this was the first time I got to take him. I was thrilled that he asked me. Spending one on one time with my kids is something I really enjoy, understand the importance of, and do not do enough of.
Before we left, my son mentioned that we would need worms to fish with. A quiet panic came over me.
When I was a boy, I had many interests. None of them included touching worms, crabs, spiders, or anything else that was small and alive. I was good with dogs but held very little interest in touching anything smaller. The thought of touching a worm grossed me out. Even at 37 years of age, I did not want to think about it.
Fortunately, my son has no such issues. Before we left, he took a little container and a shovel to the garden and managed to find several worms in short order. We packed up and headed down to the river.
As we were arriving, it dawned on me that the worms were not likely to get out of the container and attach themselves to the hook. Trying to hide my dread, I said to my son, “Hey Buddy. When you come down here with Pops (my father-in-law), do you normally put the worms on your own hook or does he do it for you?”
“Oh, Pops does it”.
I played it cool, but I was dying inside. This might seem silly to you. But there are many things that some people might find scary that I do not. I really enjoy public speaking, for example, and have no issue getting up in front of a room full of people and spilling my guts. But the thought of putting an earthworm on a fishing hook repulses me. As we took our stuff out of the car, I was thinking of what I was going to do.
I knew that there was only one way to go. I did not want to go there, but in the absence of any other good idea, I prayed for help.
I asked God to father the boy in me that never wanted to touch worms. To take me back there and lead me through something I had never experienced. To help me overcome whatever was holding me back from coming through for my son.
What happened as a result was special. Yes, I touched the worms. I attached them to the hook and we went fishing, spending an afternoon together that I will never forget. But I also had the opportunity to share with my son what I was experiencing and overcoming. It allowed me to honour him in his willingness to get into the dirt and pull out worms. I genuinely admired him watching him doing it. I was tempted to shame myself for not being able to do something my then 7-year old son could do. Instead, I allowed myself to be led through it by a Father who wants to go to all those incomplete places in me and help me grow there.
One of my favourite podcasts is Become Good Soil, hosted by Morgan Snyder. A core theme of his podcast, blog, and books is the concept of a decade of excavation. In the context of Morgan’s story, it is the decade of the 30’s. For most men, the story we live as young men is a story of building. Building a family, a career, wealth, a collection of stuff. Morgan uses the image of a city block and discusses how many of are so focused on building up that we never dig down and we run out of space. His message is an invitation to explore our stories. To dig down, and tear down the structures that do not serve us well.
As I have journeyed with Morgan and incorporated this message into my own life, I have come to discover that the decade is not a fixed period. There is no official start date or a wrap up party when the ten years have ended. Instead, ten years from now, my hope is that I will be able to look back and see the work that God has done in my life as I have tried to walk with Him. The decisions and actions I take today need to be made through the lens of a decade. “Live in the day, measure in the decade” is one of Morgan’s pieces of wisdom.
Much of what I have experienced in the last few years has been about growing upwards. Uncovering hidden treasures that exist in relationship with God and seeking to understand more of that. To grow into it. Looking up and reaching out for embrace.
When the idea of The Cedar Life came to me, I imagined looking up at an old growth Cedar tree. I imagined what it would be like to cultivate a life that resulted in the equivalent for a man.
As I have explored different ideas along the way, one thought has struck me. Unless I am willing to dig down and do the excavation work, the height I can grow to will be limited. For a tree to grow to great heights, it needs a root system that is vast and tapped into good soil.
When I reflect on my life, it is much easier to look up or ahead and try to seek the path that has been laid out for me. It is simpler to think in terms of consistent forward progress. I am realizing that to grow upwards, I need to turn over old soil to create new fertile ground for roots to grow into. To dig my hands into the dirt and get uncomfortable.
There is a temptation to approach life from an ‘onwards and upwards’ perspective. But in this approach, there are too many questions to ignore. When I react in a negative way towards my kids’ behaviour, for example, it is easy to recognize mistakes. What is harder is to explain why I react in that way.
Engaging with my story means understanding not only who I am, but how I came to be who I am. The answers are there, but it takes courage to dig through the dirt in search of them. I have been a witness to this courage in others and it is inspiring. Seeing the healing and growth that has taken place, it seems the effort is worth it.
There is a draw to the stoic, to the stiff upper lip, ‘grin and bear it’ approach to life. This model for living calls for the burying of the past and a commitment to leave it there. For different reasons, that is how many of us approach life.
I am coming to better understand an alternative approach. Jesus tells us: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20). The image that comes to me is of a healer who desires to come in. He knocks in fact. That said, He does not force His way in. We must take the first step. We must open the door.
When I overcame my hesitancy and handled live earthworms, I felt incredible. As I reflected it on it afterwards, I thought it was a neat metaphor for attending to unfinished places in life. On some level though, I sensed the story was incomplete.
This week I had planned to write something else, but God brought the worm story back to me with an added layer. Without the worms, without the willingness to get down on our hands and knees and dig through the dirt to find them, there is no fishing. To become the vision of what He intended for each of us requires us to tend to the soil of our own lives. To get our hands dirty knowing there is something to be found in the dirt.
At this moment in my own journey, it seems to me that God is asking me to pause and attend to places that need attention. To look inwards and my thoughts and behaviours and ask why? I approach these questions some trepidation. Like what I initially felt putting live worms on a hook. But God has demonstrated His kindness in the small things. I trust He will do the same in all things.
I’m going to close this one off in a prayer. If you feel inclined, read along for yourself.
Father, I trust you in all things. You are a kind and loving Father. One who wants the best for me in all things. I ask You to father me through the uncomfortable places that need attention right now. Help me to be brave and to face these places, knowing You are with me at every moment. I need You to lead me. I desire to be the fullest version of who I was created to be, and I pray You will give me the strength and wisdom to do so. Thank You for choosing me. Amen.
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