I’ve been spending most of my time of late at a construction site. My employer is building a new building to house all of our operations in this market, and I’m part of a team that’s building the technical infrastructure that will make this complex “tick.”
Last week, I saw a clean-up laborer working in a room, preparing it for our team to move in and start our work. The clean-up guy was having a particularly hard time trying to scrape up some hardened acoustical caulking goop that had been spilled on the floor. It was a tough, rubbery mess to clean up, and the floor scraper he was digging at it with just wasn’t doing the job. John, our General Contractor’s wise, seasoned construction supervisor, walked past and observed the clean-up guy’s plight. He detoured in our direction, and taking the clean-up guy’s floor scraper in hand, peered over the top of his bifocals at the scraping edge of the tool. It wasn’t long before he reached out to grab a passing worker’s arm, handing him the scraper and instructing him to take it back to another part of the building and “hit it with the grinder.” The other worker knew exactly what he meant—the scraper’s edge had become dull from scraping it across the concrete floor, and it needed to be sharpened. A minute or two later, the worker returned and handed the tool back to the clean-up guy, who had that rubbery mess scraped up in no time.
It was a good lesson in effectiveness for me, but it wasn’t a new lesson. There have been many similar illustrations of the same principle, such as the often used story of the young woodsman who landed a job with a crew of tree cutters because of his extreme speed and accuracy with his axe. A couple of weeks later his new boss fired him, because he had slowed down and wasn’t cutting nearly as fast as he used to—in fact, he was slowing down the whole crew. The story concludes that the young man had been working hard—harder than he ever had before—but producing less, because he had failed to take the time to sharpen his axe. There are several other stories told about recharging batteries, filling your gas tank, or even that old “tortoise and hare” thing. There are so many illustrations of this basic concept of pacing and balance because some folks need to hear it, and have it drummed into their heads, on a regular basis. I know I do.
There are scriptural illustrations, as well:
“If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.” (Ecclesiates 10:10)
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.” (Matt 25:1-10)
This parable is often applied to spiritual readiness, but also can be applied to practical, everyday living. If you become so busy burning your lamp that you forget to pick up oil to refill it, your lamp will burn out, usually at the most inopportune moment. If you push yourself so hard in the name of productivity that you don’t allow yourself enough rest, relaxation, and recuperation, your productivity will go DOWN, not UP.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up some oil. Sorry, I can’t bring you any back—you’ll have to go get it yourself.