“What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart.”
Ecclesiastes 3, 9-11.
John Mason leans an arm on a concrete barn wall to counteract his parkinsonian tremor, and with a broad smile explains how to spot a good ‘beast’ at a cattle market. Eighty-five years experience distilled into a few witty sentences.
John is proud of the new computerised machinery for processing grain on the farm, and the latest tractors they have acquired.
He tells us he has retired, some 15 years ago. By this, he means he has transferred the responsibility of the management of the farm to his son, however, John still works on the farm most days.
He had a hip replacement recently and was advised he could not drive his car for a period but “they didn’t say I couldn’t drive tractors” he says with a mischevious grin. He loves going to cattle markets though his son does most of the buying online nowadays. John’s cattle purchases are each marked with a ‘D for dad’ he explains. He shows us the papers from his most recent trip to the local cattle market, looks at what he paid for each animal and, casting both eyes and curly eyebrows carefully over each of his purchases he pronounces ‘they’ve done not too badly at all’.
John’s grandson, Ewan, 16, passes us in a large tractor. John nods to him, grandfatherly approval and pride all bundled up in that brief head movement.
There is a simplicity about life in farming families which is intriguing. Land and farm are transferred from generation to generation seamlessly. The older generation encouraging the younger. The younger caring for the older.
Back at John’s home, carers attend morning and evening to look after John’s wife, Muriel who has Alzheimer’s disease. John and Muriel also have help with housekeeping three days a week, and gardening once weekly. Their home is a calm place, comfortable, homely and spotlessly clean. The gardens are well tended and washing is on the line.
‘I’ve so much to be thankful for’ says John sinking into a chair for afternoon tea. “God is good”.
Living with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease is hard and John’s daughter, in her early 50’s, also has a rare dementing illness. Clare is no longer able to recognise her family and is cared for in a nearby nursing home.
But God has put Eternity in the hearts of these people. They have lived through many seasons of life, gratefully, humbly, alongside others, in prayer.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
- A time to be born, and a time to die;
- A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
- A time to kill, and a time to heal
- A time to break down, and a time to build up
- A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
- A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
- A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
- A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
- A time to seek, and a time to lose;
- A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
- A time to tear, and a time to sew;
- A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
- A time to love, and a time to hate;
- A time for war, and a time for peace.
Eternity isn’t somewhere over the rolling hills we see in the distance as we drink tea together. Nor is it a vain hope that there is more to life than work and toil, and then returning to the soil. Eternity is right here, a small glimpse of the glory of God’s Kingdom in an ordinary English farmhouse.
In this household, carers are not intruders but God’s provision. Lunch guests are not an inconvenience but friends to celebrate. There is joy in the small things and then there are things that keep John awake at night. There is also deep contentment, and the most difficult of life’s challenges are simplified and managed in the light of Eternity. God himself is present in the tragedy of it all. God indeed is good.
We go home with a bag of freshly dug potatoes and a little piece of glory.
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity.