A year or so ago I posted about the visit of a friend, an aging “wanted-to-be” farmer. He and I were relaxing in front of our hearthstone wood stove, when he started to rant.
“You know, there was a time when my contentment was being shattered by bitterness. From scratch I had developed our farm for the future of our family. It was for our children to experience a better life, and hopefully for their children, too, for all of us to work together on this property, being good stewards of God’s land, out of the clutches of this crazy materialistic world! But then all my children moved away to live in the city, of all places. Now my wife and I are retired empty-nesters out here on this acreage, but I can’t do the farm work by myself anymore because of my health. So the farm is going to sit mostly idle. After my children graduated college and got married, rather than coming back here to live near us on a part of this land, to eventually make the farm their own, they all moved away, and too far away to be of any help. There have been days that I felt like it was all just a waste.”
He then paused for a sip of coffee, and after a long quiet stare into the fire, he continued:
“But then I remembered. I had done the very same thing to my parents, especially to my father. After college, I got married, and instead of moving up closer to them, my wife and I moved farther away. I ended up doing something he never dreamed I’d do—he never wanted me to do—we built a house on a portion of my wife’s family rural property, and of all things we tried to develop it into a self-sustaining farm. Like my father, I had no experience in farming whatsoever, but we gave it a shot, in many ways so that our boys could experience the rural farm life. But now I look back and think I understand the sadness I often saw in my father’s eyes whenever we and our kids would make the occasional trips up to visit with them. I guess I’ve learned how, in an ironic sense of God’s humor, I’ve been ‘hoisted with my own petard.’ Our decisions were never a rejection of my parents or even their wisdom. I just thought we were trying to follow God’s will, and the best we could with everything we had on our plates. We were given an opportunity to live on this rural land, and we thought it would be a great place to raise our kids, and it was.”
He took another long sip and meditative gaze into the fire. Then a confession.
“Contentment for me involves apologizing in prayer to my departed parents for any heartaches my obtuseness may have caused them. This likewise involves letting go of any bitterness the devil might tempt me to feel toward my children. We were blessed to have lived together on this land, and I pray that they learn to be content where they believe—where I believe—God has now called them to live. And I pray that God continues to give my wife and I the grace to learn to grow in contentment on this fine rural land that He has given us for our retirement.”
As I consider what my wife Marilyn and I need to do now, out here as empty-nesters on our “cottage farm” in the years ahead, there are some things I have come to learn. Just because we left the city to live out here on this rural property, or because we established this “cottage farm” for our boys and brought them up on this land, does not therefore automatically mean that God has called my children—or even me—to be farmers. There are myriads of publications and web-blogs exhorting people to return to the farm, to save our country by re-establishing traditional American small farm culture, and to avoid the coming Tribulation by becoming self-sufficient and off-the-grid—and I can’t deny that there were times I at least tried to preach and live this separatist agrarian gospel; nor can I deny that I believe there is great value and hope in becoming more self-sufficient and less attached to this hell-bent world around us.
But now I see that we must not douse ourselves or especially our children with false guilt over their supposed responsibility to take over this farm [or might I add, any family business]. We may have done all this for them, which is truly generous, charitable, and humble, but we need to remember that they need to be free to discern what God is calling them to do. It may have been God’s desire for us to live and bring up our sons on this farm, in a rural enclave where they could receive the blessings of a more traditional, rural education and culture—less tainted by the crazy wokeness and apostasy of the surrounding culture—but not necessarily so they themselves would remain in this rural safe stronghold. Rather, it may have been so that they would be better prepared to go forth to live and preach the Gospel in the midst of this fallen world.
I see that this has happened with our three sons. Actually in spite of my many, many short-comings, and my wife’s and my less-than-perfect attempts at parenting, all three of our sons are not only still active in the Church, but (at least) say they loved growing up out here on our rural “cottage farm”. It has become increasingly obvious, however, that continuing on the farm, let alone taking it over after I’ve “retired”, was not where their hearts were leading them.
Some of you might have guessed, but I lied to you earlier. I have no old farmer friend who was ranting in front of my hearth fire—that was me. I had indeed once succumb to the temptation of bitterness, but by God’s mercy, I have come to appreciate what I have confessed in this post.
Some of you may also question whether it was wise for me to share my dirty laundry publicly in this way, but I’ve known aging farmers who have felt this bitterness. And especially within the agrarian community, there is a persistent accusatory finger pointed back at the thousands of children who left farming for life elsewhere, blaming them for the demise of family farms in America. This is unfair as well as ignorantly uncharitable. There was a time when families had no choice but to farm, to put food on their tables as well as have some means of making a living. Yes, it was a good and wholesome life for many; but the reason so many left was because it wasn’t necessary so for everyone.
Today, for most, living on a rural farm is a privilege, and needs to be understood as a calling, not an obligation. Otherwise, one cannot be free to hear the whispering voice of God, whether through the pines and leaves, the crops and animals, the creeks and stars of a rural environment, or the still small voice that still beckons even along the perilous streets of a crowded city.
I’ve grown to see that God called us out to this rural property not to become farmers, but to discover, together with our sons, what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really all about. It’s certainly about faith, the sacraments, the Church, and all that, of course. But it’s mostly about love and humility; hard work, forgiveness, and humility; detachment, simplicity, sacrifice, and humility; courage and others-centeredness; oh, and did I mention, humility?
Great story and lesson. If you have faith that we are in God’s loving hands bitterness is replaced by calm reflection and acceptance. Thanks for the reminder!