How is a Finicky Lawnmower a Metaphor for my Work life?

Here’s our current lawnmower. We haven’t had a very good relationship.

Yesterday we had a gap in the spring rains. The lawn was tall and needed to be cut before the rain fell again today. I had an hour to spare between work and baseball, so I decided that I was going to mow the lawn. I’m a capable person in this household. I am fully capable to cut the grass, especially since my husband wouldn’t be home until after dark. He works hard, cares for all of us, and has little leisure time. I’ll be a helper!

Here I am at fifteen months, trying to be a helper.

The lawnmower and I have a rocky relationship. When the lawnmower and I were younger, in my late twenties and thirties, I was usually able to get it started with lots of priming and pulling. But for the last few years? Our relationship has gotten more and more hostile. I primed 25 times. Pull, pull, pull, pull, pull! Nothing. 25 more times. Pull, pull……. you get the idea. Maybe it’s because I’m short and don’t have good leverage. Maybe the lawnmower likes frustrating me. I don’t know what it is, but even though I want to help, I can’t. I’m blocked by that stupid lawnmower.

“Why not just get a new one? One of those battery operated ones?” you may ask. Well, I’ve asked Daniel about that. It still works, so why replace it. Last summer the pullcord snapped. “Oh boy!!! We’ll get a new lawnmower!!!” I thought with hope. Nope. He just purchased a new pullcord and it was running again. Daniel was so pleased.

Well, after my last fail, I was SO FRUSTRATED!!! I just wanted to help! I saw a need. I was a capable, able bodied member of this household with an hour to spare. I wanted to mow the lawn before the rain so that my husband wouldn’t have to. I just wanted to be a helper!

Well, after I yell-typed a text to Daniel about how much I hate the lawnmower, I realized that the lawnmower is a metaphor for my work life.

I’ve been the Children’s Ministries Director for my church, a terrific mid-sized church in a DC suburb, for the last eleven years. Through that time, my ministry has grown in leaps and bounds. The number of families has blossomed, and my responsibilities have increased. The Senior Pastor has seen my capabilities and, from time to time, has suggested other areas of my ministry to explore, like teaching and encouraging the parents, so I did! Like my desire to mow the lawn, I had a desire to be a helpful, hard worker. When I saw a need, I went to work.

One of my favorite pictures of VBS

Over the years, the scope and span of Children’s Ministries went unnoticed by the leaders. Not once did I meet with the Elders to share what was going on. Because there was never a crisis, it was off their radar. Even meeting with the Senior Pastor didn’t take place unless I felt the need to talk with him about a problem. It was just his style of leadership. I, and Children’s Ministries, were neglected because we were both thriving. (Or so they thought) Daniel can always start the lawnmower; there’s nothing wrong with it. But, maybe we should have been servicing the lawnmower regularly, and that would have helped it to start for me. Maybe I should have initiated more meetings, but I didn’t feel like that was a wanted thing. Actually, I knew that it wasn’t a wanted thing.

Children’s Ministries has had lots of highs, and it’s had some lows as well. Most people didn’t see the lows, or don’t remember them, because it didn’t cause them to have sleepless nights and lots of tears. Seven years ago I wanted to quit. I was burned out. “You can’t quit. There’s no one else that can do what you do,” is what I heard. What I needed was to be invested in, to be encouraged. I had seen pastoral interns come and go and they were embraced, taught, encouraged, made part of the pastoral team and they went to Elders’ meetings. They had instant access and instant relationships. Meanwhile, I was pretty much forgotten about. Even though I expressed to the Senior Pastor that I was burned out, the solution was, “You should create a team. Who can you recruit to be part of your team?” I couldn’t think of anyone. At this stage in my church, there were TONS of babies and toddlers. The young moms didn’t have anything extra to give. The older moms had already done Children’s Ministries and had moved on. I was already recruiting the volunteers for Nursery, Preschool, Sunday School, Kids’ Worship, and other extra events. Asking me to recruit volunteers to be on a Children’s Ministries Team was just work that seemed impossible. I can’t believe that my body language didn’t scream “I need help! I need someone to encourage me!” I still remember being almost doubled over in my chair in despair. Daniel has seen how frustrated I’ve been with the stupid lawnmower. But, even though I’ve asked for a new lawnmower, we haven’t gotten one. The grass was still getting cut eventually, so everything seemed fine…

Well, after years of working hard, doing a great job, yet still being siloed, COVID hit. I’m not going to talk about the details, but I found myself needing to share my knowledge and expertise with the pastors and Elders multiple times. I had a perspective that they didn’t, but they didn’t want to hear it. They didn’t realize that they didn’t see the big picture. I wanted to be a helper. It is my job, afterall. But instead I was rejected over and over again. Just like my pleas for a new lawnmower so that I could help, I was rejected time and time again. I just want to help!

Well, Daniel finally got the hint, I think because I yelled loudly enough, and I linked it to how frustrated I have been/continue to be at work. (I think that he might have been even more furious than I was, about my work situation.) So, he did some research and has picked out our new lawnmower. As for work, well, there’s been considerable progress, but there’s a long way to go. I, and my ministry have been slighted for so many years, that it’s not going to be an overnight fix, but I’m hopeful. And I’m also hopeful that with a new lawnmower I’ll be able to mow the lawn. I just want to help.

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