Advice from Henry David Thoreau about the importance of our work:
The fate of the country does not depend on … what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year—but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.
And: How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
And: Be not simply good—be good for something.
EDITOR’s NOTE—At this remarkable milestone in world history—500 years from the start of the Reformation and 200 years from Thoreau’s birth—we invited popular author and columnist Benjamin Pratt to reflect on the challenges of his own life’s work as a pastor, counselor, writer, father, grandfather and talented woodworker. He calls his reflection simply: The Workbench.
By BENJAMIN PRATT
There were two workbenches in my life.
Both brought me opportunity for purpose, creativity and satisfaction, even joy.
The first often left me weary and exhausted. The second, I never touched when I was tired. I liked my fingers too much.
The first workbench was the platform for my public life. It was always messy with papers, books, lists, notes, doodles, pens, clips and pencils. And the never-quiet phone for hearing needs, distributing concern, directing actions of service. I was a director of dissident music. The living and the dying converged upon this workbench for blessings, prayers, counsel and celebrations. Calls came from the glad, the newly weds, the newborn’s family, the lovelorn, lonely, brokenhearted, and the weak and dying.
In the midst of this clutter came letters of compliment and complaint, words of love and gratitude, and sometimes words of anger, despair or disdain. On this workbench were sketched sermons, bulletins and news briefs. Crafted here were notes of joy and hope, missives of comfort. From this workbench the Gospel was dispersed and the Bread of Life divided and shared with office, school, family.
At this workbench my soul, body and mind were occasionally sucked dry by too many people’s needs and not enough of me. I was lonely in the midst of the needy crowd. Fortunately, more often, my soul was filled with joy and nurtured with purpose and hope.
My second workbench was my private cloister.
It was messy also. It was always cluttered with chisels, rasps, shavings and sawdust. On dust-covered paper were sketches of projects, always something my mind could imagine more easily than my hands could produce. The challenge of creativity!
Precision and patience focused my eyes and hands as I crafted gifts for family and friends. The fragrances of walnut, cherry, oak and cedar wrapped me in cozy warmth like a freshly baked apple pie. These were times of solitude when body and mind were breathing a prayer of gratitude.
My life worked best when I kept these two workbenches in a delicate balance. Creative solitude (being alone with joy, not pain) was at the other end of the seesaw from my public life.
And now, as I have grown older, these workbenches remain in vivid memory, if not in tactile reach as my wife and I have downsized our home. It is the connection between the two that I treasure—and hope those I have loved and served through the years may remember fondly a Sunday message or a kind word that passed across one workbench—or a hand-crafted piece of furniture that passed across the other.
Two images perhaps. The real value, though, lies in seeing the connection. In my life, these workbenches truly were one. And, at their best, they were in balance as I labored over them. I was blessed and I was able to bless others.
Care to read more?
Enjoy looking over Benjamin Pratt’s books in our ReadTheSpirit bookstore.