Mow the backyard: A parable about priorities

Mow the backyard: A parable about priorities

For the first time in months, the weather here in Oklahoma has been beautiful. Temps have been in the 70s; it’s been sunny with a light breeze, and it finally feels great to be outside.

So I celebrated by mowing.

During summers, the heat and humidity are such that yard work sounds about as enjoyable as standing in a steady drizzle of dead cats.[1]

Which is to say: not very. But the other day, the weather was so nice that I actually mowed both front and back yards. Consecutively. Like a champion.

This has been rare.

One reason is that our new house has a sprinkler system, which means that we actually have grass now, and it grows quickly. And while our new yard is larger than the old one, my push mower is the same. So I’ve been compensating by paying much more attention to the front yard while the back has been neglected.

My reasoning was simple: The front yard is the part that people see. It reflects my character as a citizen—which is also why it’s devoid of presidential campaign signs. And it gives me a sense of pride to see it neatly edged and manicured. I am respectable. I drive a Dodge Stratus. Look at my lawn.

The backyard is hidden. So I have an excuse. As a result, the grass grew tall; the wasps made a home in our not-yet-fully-reassembled play set. Penelope and I got stung. (One of us cried.) And the general state of the backyard has been one of disregard and disarray.

And that’s a shame.

Because the backyard is the one we actually use. It’s where the life is. There’s a kiddie pool with moss and sidewalk chalk inside. The backyard is where we barbecue. And it’s where the kids can run and play (amid the wasps and jungle grass).

In short, I’ve been neglecting the yard we use in order to keep up the one that’s for show.

And somewhere in there is a parable about priorities.

“If you have ears to hear, then hear.”

At some point, all of us are tempted to spend lots of time and energy on the parts of life that people see, while neglecting the important parts that remain more hidden.

Jesus likened this to cleaning the outside of a cup while leaving the inside dirty and disgusting.

And it involves more than just lawn care.

More serious examples include:

  • Speaking kindly to friends and coworkers, while being short with a spouse.
  • Spending hours on a project or presentation while neglecting personal enrichment.
  • Ignoring the kids in order to find that perfect “filter” to display that photo of you and the kids.
  • Sacrificing one’s health on the altar of success.
  • Or sacrificing one’s soul on the altar of physical appearance.

In all of this, the “front lawn” takes precedence, while the “backyard” goes to hell.

So while I often fail to live up to this, my goal in the coming weeks is to “mow the backyard” (both literally and metaphorically), even if that means that the more visible parts of life look just a little less impressive.

Because while I enjoy being seen as a respectable citizen, that’s not the most important thing.

Besides, no one looks respectable while crying from a wasp sting.


[1] This disgusting and fantastic phrase was stolen from David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making, p. 80.