I remember the sun beating down on me as I sat among perfectly planted rows of cotton that were the map for a perfect adventure. Day after day, from sunrise to sunset, my brother and I roamed free, him building things and me collecting treasure among the fields. At the most unlikely time, rain would come, answering a prayer, and delivering the plants so they could grow a big stronger, a bit taller.
By most accounts, a cotton field doesn’t sound like the ideal playground, and that the harvest will come might seem like a light lesson to learn. But if you’re fortunate enough to be from a farming family, you know more memories and hard-earned lessons come from the middle of a cotton field than you can retell in a lifetime.
There it is, all the year’s work—dredging the land into rows, planting the seed, spraying the weeds, waiting for rain, praying for the rain, and trusting the harvest to come and be enough. It seems so nice and tidy in a lovely list here, but there is so much sweat, so much out of our control, so much that can go wrong, and so many lonely nights. And still, year after year, generation after generation, the harvest provides.
Now, three states away, thirty years and three kids later, the same sun breaks through the cracks in the trees and catches the tiny hands of my own daughter and son, their hands full of the land. They lift it high like a trophy they’ve earned, and I can smell the musty dirt. Digging, gathering, sorting, they work and enjoy, the pure joy of being lost in the work.
As I turn into my neighborhood with kids in tow after work, the cotton field in full bloom feels strangely familiar to me. I remember the work. The field demands work and faith for the harvest. I want the harvest to come quickly with my kids, my job, and my marriage. After all this work, day in and day out, I want to see the fruit of my labor.
As followers of Christ, we are called to doing good, the hard work, and trusting that in the proper time a harvest will come if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:9). In the work, we are changed. The work of loving and disciplining small children, teaching them kindness and obedience. The work of diligence and integrity in a job. The work of forgiveness, understanding, and conversation in a marriage. There is much work to be done. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37 NIV). Yes, I understand why the workers are few—the field is a lot of hard work.
The wisdom from King Solomon is beginning to make sense: “The only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward…to receive his reward and to find enjoyment in his toil; these things are the gift of God. For he does not think much about the fleeting days of his life because God keeps him preoccupied with the joy he derives from his activity” (Ecclesiastes 5:18–20 NET).
The weight of the irony blinds me like the sun. From King Solomon’s days to my own children, it’s easy to miss the treasure in the toil.
My own grandfather’s hands, now callused from years of hard labor in the fields, reflect days of giving fully to the work of his hands and trusting the harvest along the way. In his retelling of the years and crops that came—and those that didn’t—I hear the joy in the work, producing the fruit and offering the harvest to the Lord. He misses the work.
The work is the reward; the joy is in the toil. The great joy of my labor in the cotton field as a child, collecting the sticks and cotton bolls, is burned in my mind. My own children are oblivious to the work of harvest, but preoccupied with the joy derived from activity. The harvest is the Lord’s, the work is ours—his gift to us, to participate in what he is doing.
Let us not miss the treasure of the harvest in front of us, the gift of the work. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, our greatest example, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). Let our hope and prayer be that we open our hands with the fruit of our labor and lift it to the Lord that he might harvest something beautiful.
With southern roots in both Texas and Tennessee, Abbie Gristy loves sharing life with family and friends and is happiest when her home is full of both. She and her husband of 15 years have three strong and sweet kids who love adventure and daily provide new writing material. Her passion is making the most of every moment, currently learning to live life less like a list and more like a lyric.
Photograph © W. June Photography by Jamie Deaton, used with permission