Virtue is a struggle for all of us, young and old. I have found throughout the years that the greatest achievements—feats which I thought I’d never accomplish—have been motivated by love. As the priest says in the short film Fishers of Men, “Where there is love, sacrifice is easy.” Still, for a ten-year-old boy, sacrifice proves a formidable wrestling partner. His youth lacks the experience necessary to shush the inner voice that whines, I want to do what I want to do!
As we turn the calendar pages to welcome the morning chill of fall, I will remember one particular incident of this most recent summer.
This story of a boy grappling with temptation necessitates that I properly introduce the two opponents. In one corner is a preadolescent boy, frequently interspersing youth’s playfulness with puberty’s moodiness and the occasional young man’s hunger for mission and justice. He is among the middle children of the family, and therefore understands what it means to follow and to lead. This kid has a big heart but also a quick temper, making him rather unpredictable when facing adversity.
In the other corner, we have the Southern summer—specifically, yardwork in the August heat of the Deep South. Summers along the Gulf Coast bring sticky mornings, stifling noontimes, thundershower afternoons, and mosquito-filled evenings. Southern summers also bring the great dilemma of lawn upkeep. Since a tropical climate is prevalent in Bayou Country, the months from April–September bring sweltering heat along with frequent rain. Naturally, August features some of the most intense heat and humidity, which can bolster the “feels like” temperatures into the triple digits. Working in the outdoor sauna requires extraordinary determination, especially when the thick air makes it hard just to breathe.
Considering all the weather factors, it is often difficult to negotiate exactly when is the best time—or rather, the least-worst time—to tackle outdoor yard work. My three sons know by now that if Dad ventures out too early, he might avoid the midday swelter, yet the grass will remain wet with dew. However, if he waits a while for the sun to burn off the morning dampness, then he faces the draining midday heat.
There is the potential option of delaying the yardwork until late afternoon when the heat is not so harsh. But then he’ll have to take his chances that the afternoon rains won’t roll in—drenching the grass, which will require several days to dry before cutting. To not cut the grass is not an option. The warm sun and frequent rain create a very lush environment in which plant life soon sprouts knee-high shoots if not kept in check. I’m convinced that people who said they were “just watching the grass grow” were probably watching the front lawns in Louisiana. Fatefully, the best opportunity for yardwork—non-sweltering heat coupled with not-quite-drenched grass—typically arrives on a Thursday afternoon while Dad is stuck working his job away from home.
My husband faced this dilemma one Sunday afternoon in late-August. The yard had finally dried from the previous rains. Although it would have been nice to enjoy a relaxing afternoon, ominous grey clouds began collecting along the horizon. So, although it was crazy hot, and a Sunday, my husband figured three o’clock was his only opportunity to cut the grass before the coming rains.
He did not look forward to the lawnmowing, weed eating, and leaf blowing tasks ahead. He knew the harsh heat would drain him for the remainder of the afternoon. Yet he decided to brave the elements. And, probably because it was a Sunday, he didn’t feel it necessary to coax our sons to help out. In a spirit of benevolence, my husband announced, “I’m going to cut the yard. You guys don’t have to help me.”
Our oldest son raised his eyebrows and might have considered helping out, but he muttered that he had homework to do. Our second son furrowed his brow and gladly picked up a book to read. But our third son began to sniffle and squirm on the couch.
I studied him from the opposite couch and asked, “Why are you so upset? Dad said you didn’t have to cut the grass with him.”
“I know!” he wailed. “But Dad’s going to be cranky when he comes back inside!”
I pondered the response, not wanting to upset this preteen with further questions. Yet, I could not understand his concern since my husband is not easily bothered. Bewildered but still curious, I asked, “Why will Dad be cranky?”
“Because he’s gonna be dead!” the boy announced with full sobs.
I stifled a laugh. This son is too old to seriously think the heat will truly kill his father. But I was touched by the sincerity of the boy’s turmoil.
At that moment, I rose to attend to one of the younger kids calling. I tapped his shoulder, assuring him, “It’s super hot out there. But Dad will be okay.”
I returned to find an empty couch. Looking through the window, I saw a short thin figure pushing the lawnmower across the yard. My initial motherly concern soon turned into admiration. He struggled, and he won.
A 10-year-old boy is not motivated by the pride of having a clean-cut yard, nor is he moved much by the smugness of completing a task that even his older brothers aren’t willing to undertake. No, only genuine love moves the heart to do those things which seem nearly impossible—cutting the grass at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon when the temperature “feels like” 104 degrees and sweat dampens the brow before the lawnmower revs up. Father and son finished the yardwork just in time to beat the afternoon rain showers.
Colossians 3:14 instructs us that we are moved toward all virtues through the binding force of love. Love moved my son to save his father from “dying” in the sweltering heat of the southern summer.
Myriah Christine graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville with a BA in Psychology. Soon after, she left her native Southern California home to marry a FUS alumnus, start a family, settle in Bayou Country with her Cajun husband, and begin a career homeschooling their ever-growing family. With seven children ranging from ages 21 – 2, her parenting experience is continually expanding.