Make Hay While the Sun Shines
One of my favorite children’s books is Ox-Cart Man, written by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, who won the prestigious Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in this book. The story follows a New England farmer who loads his ox cart with goods from his farm and makes the long trek through the countryside to the market to sell everything, including the ox cart and the cow pulling his ox cart. He then uses the money to buy supplies and tools that he and his family will need to survive the winter months.
When I grew up, my father had a saying he used often: “You have to make hay while the sun shines.” This admonition was not reserved only for the hay we baled and stacked neatly in the barn of our farm, working to be done before the rainy days came (because baling wet hay would it make it moldy later). He applied this phrase to any practical situation. He meant that we needed to work hard while we were able to do something and while the conditions and human-power were available, because tomorrow might bring situations that could prevent us from accomplishing the job—bad weather, sickness, broken tools.
I often apply the metaphor of the ox-cart man and my father’s often-used slogan to my life. Right now I’m healthy (as far as I know) and energized. I’m usually up at 6 a.m. and go strong until late at night. But I know there will come a time when I will lose control of my freedom, when sickness or tragedy will come to my me or my family . It may be tomorrow, next year, or five years from now. The time is unknown, but the certainty that the day will arrive is assured.
No matter how sunny it is today, no matter how wonderful life is at this moment as you grab a few minutes and sit in front of your computer, the winter of your lifetime is coming. You can count on it. Job 5:7 says, “People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire.” This year my wife and I have witnessed this “winter” entering the lives of some of our friends. A couple in our church lost their daughter to suicide when she felt she could not go on living with the voices in her head. Very close friends of ours decided their marriage could not weather another day and separated. Infidelity and separation can cast you or others around you headlong into dark, dark days. David says in Psalm 38:6-8, 11, “I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart. . . . My loved ones and friends stay away.” Later in the same chapter, David writes, “Do not abandon me, O Lord. Do not stand at a distance, my God” (Psalm 38:21).
Have you ever felt like that? That everyone has abandoned you—including God? Because of cancer. Because of divorce. Depression. Death. Financial ruin. Shame. Addiction.
We must accept that at some point each of us will face dark days such as these, and it’s important now—while the sun is shining—to “make hay” in preparation for those days. Work on your faith life by reading the Bible and praying. Memorize God’s promises (you can read them in my Life Application column this month). Work on your relationships. Have you called your parents, brother, sister, children lately? Have you invested in your relationships with people in your church and community? These people can surround you with their love and support in your time of need, but you need to invest in those relationships today. Are you helping others in their need? Are you taking interest in the lives of your friends and family—putting their interests ahead of your own?
All through the Bible we see God’s people in the depths of despair—Job, Jonah, David—and God’s deliverance of them. Paul sat in jail for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and never lost hope, encouraging others through his letters from prison, singing songs of praise from within the darkness of his cell. As Christians, we must never lose the hope we have in Jesus Christ. He heals diseases, he conquers despair and death, and one day we will spend eternity with him in a place where there is no winter.