I Smell Like Sheep Poop: Spirituality of Work

I got a call from a friend a couple of days ago. He has a small sheep herd of about 100 head and he was needing help sorting them. Some had to go to market. Some had to be tagged and tattooed. And some needed to be culled off for shearing.

I love a day at the farm, it gets me out of the office and away from the computer for several hours and lets me utilize some old cowboy skills from so long ago it seems like another life. The sun was warm and there was a gentle breeze coming out of the west as our ragtag crew began to gather the sheep into a small pasture. Then in batches of 10’s we’d herd the sheep into a small corral to sort and whatever else was necessary. The sheep were... well sheep and they did what sheep did. Some were complacent and others - well let's say were a bit of a wooly rodeo.

After we were finished, we stopped for a bite to eat and I became aware of my smell. I smelled like sheep. I looked down and saw I had sheep poop dried on my legs and shorts, and my hands were stained green with tattoo ink. I was also aware of the nagging pain in my not so young body and each of the bruises on my shins reminded me of how hard sheep can kick. As I became aware of it all, I was aware that I was content.

"It is not only prayer that gives God glory but so does work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God the glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty. To go to Communion worthily gives God great glory, but a man with a dung fork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should." - Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Principle or Foundation.

As I reflected on my time with the sheep and the others in our crew, I became aware of the glimpses of the Father I observed in those few hours.

In the work.  I was aware of how good it is to work.  The sense of accomplishment of achieving a goal successfully.  The overcoming of an inexperienced crew and sheep being sheep to see the sheep safely sorted and the crew intact.  It seemed to me that the Spirit of God so infuses work and somehow the way we work in great and small way speaks of incarnation and creation.

Twentieth-century man needs to be reminded at times that work is not the result of the Fall. Man was made to work, because the God who made him was a "working God." Man was made to be creative, with his mind and his hands. Work is part of the dignity of his existence.  - Sinclair B. Ferguson, A Heart for God

In a blonde haired boy.  He told me his favorite thing to do was play video games and you could tell he was out of his element among the sheep and the muck.  Perhaps enticed by the dollar signs, he found himself overwhelmed by the sheep and taking refuge in the safety of the other side of the fence.  To be sure he wanted to be included but didn’t have some of the necessary gifts needed in sheep wrestlers!  So we taught him to work the gate.  An important job but no cake walk.  See, this is old style sheep ranching and the gate was several pointy fence posts united by 8 strands of old, rusty barbed-wire.   With some patient instruction, some encouragement and a little work on his technique, this young fella took his place in the crew and you could see him beam with renewed confidence.

We must never undervalue any person. The workman loves not that his work should be despised in his presence. Now God is present everywhere, and every person is His work.  - Francis de sales

A 15-year-old boy.  A city-slicker for sure but a gentleness that was obviously Jesus inspired.  Not content to “attack” the sheep, to hit them or kick them - he spoke gently and moved smoothly through the herd calmly getting the sheep where they needed to be - whether back in the pasture, tagged and tattooed or on the stock trailer.   Contrary to the other crew he seemed to understand that sheep don’t respond well to stress - to hitting, yelling or pushing hard.  He realized that the harder they are pushed, pulled or yelled at, the harder they are to work with.  It was very cool to see this gentle soul treat each sheep with respect and dignity (yes, I know they’re sheep and so did he).  Funny, the sheep he worked with were much easier to process than the others who were all agitated by rough treatment.  To see his gentleness and still his ability to get the job done was stirring.  This young man, a person of faith and love was such a beautiful character study of a Godly, servant leader.

What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow.  - Martin Luther

A five-year-old boy. He loves to chase sheep. He loves to run and be a part of everything that is going on. Only going into Kindergarten his job was to find ear tags with the right numbers on them and then put them in the tagger. He stuck with it and did a good job as only a 5 year could. It was a bottleneck to efficiency for sure, but no one seemed to mind. He was working too!

Imagine his surprise when he was handed a crisp $10 bill for his “wages”. More money than he ever had before. While not really grasping the intricacy of modern finance, he did know that money bought ice cream and he was overjoyed to take his family for ice cream after supper. He beamed like the sun as he placed his $10 bill on the counter to pay for the summer treats!

There are a few other examples which come to mind - patience as newbies learned to back the truck and trailer up. The sharing of some personal struggles and joys on the trips between pastures, and the smiles and laughs of the day. They all seem somewhat mundane and yet so full of God. Each situation and person seemed to burst with the wonder of the Kingdom.

I am still tired. I am still sore and yes, I still smell like sheep poop. In a strange way, each of these are reminders of my encounter with God with the sheep today. I am still content. Huh... sometimes the Kingdom smells like sheep.

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