Tending Your Edges (unabridged)

My kitchen in Alaska

My kitchen in Alaska

The older I get it never ceases to amaze me that I have made it this far and am still in one piece physically…more or less.

Like you I suspect, I bear physical scars from my years that testify to the fact that my guardian angel has gray hair, frayed wings, and bags under his eyes from sleepless nights. No doubt this dear one is pleading for the Lord's return to gather me up just as much as I am, if not more so.

My left thumb is marked by a slight irregularity next to the nail where I nearly cut it off. If God hadn't seen fit to bestow us with fingernails, my portside thumb would be one-third shorter than the original specifications. For some auspicious occasion, which I don’t recall now, my granddad gave me a hatchet. It wasn't by any standard a good tool, and it wouldn't hold an edge even in its leather case.

I was working on a hatchet project one morning with my left hand obediently holding my work below the very dull edge. Since the blade wouldn't go through the wood on its own it only seemed reasonable to hit the head of the hatchet with a hammer.

The rest is history except, thankfully, for the end of my left thumb. However, my thumb did send an immediate message to command central which I voiced while dancing in a circle holding my thumb: "That was really stupid!"

This is only one of the experiences that crossed my mind a few mornings ago as I read Hebrews 5: 11, "Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing."

There is a great deal to be said about this verse, but I only want to mention two things: Notice first that these readers became dull. They weren't dull to begin with. And it only follows that if it happened to them, it could happen to me. Second: As I've thought about it, I don't ever remember buying a cutting tool that was dull. An instrument designed to carry an edge has one on it when it is purchased—and then it gets dull. How?

Like my little hatchet, if a tool isn't tempered well it will never hold a good edge. It didn't matter if I was hacking at dandelions or a tree. The edge on my hatchet amalgamated itself into the hatchet's head.

A tool designed to cut can also become dull through neglect. Even my Swiss army knife becomes dull if I take too many camping trips without touching up its edge.

Dullness can occur through abuse, like cutting things you aren’t supposed to cut. There isn't anything that will send you back to the tailgate of the truck to sharpen your chain saw like cutting into the dirt.

Trying to cut with the wrong tool will dull it. Chopping wood with a butcher knife will get very little wood cut and leave you a very frustrated butcher as well.

If you think about it, we often attribute cutting metaphors to people. If someone is tired, we say they aren’t as sharp as they need to be. If someone is overwhelmed or burned out, we say they have lost their edge. And this makes my point: All edges, even human ones, need to be cared for.

I won’t belabor my point with examples of how we abuse our soul’s edge with drugs, alcohol abuse, a sedentary lifestyle, etc. I think these applications are obvious.

However, I do want to focus on time as a critical component in maintaining our edges as people. It seems almost by the week that life gets more demanding. Dianne and I have no living children and our lives run at a very quick pace. The folks we know with kids, their lives are blindingly fast. From the outside looking in, the pace some folks keep is insane.

You have no doubt read the studies demonstrating that multi-tasking is not efficient. No matter how much we would like to think otherwise, we humans are not capable of multi-tasking and doing quality work. We can’t listen and read, talk on the phone and pay attention to our kids; we can’t text on our phones and drive our cars, and we can’t stay sharp without taking time away to tend our soul’s edge.

As a human being created in the image of God (who rested on the seventh day, you will recall), we must have time to refuel, recharge, renew, and relax or we will become dull. We must have quiet time to ponder, listen, consider, and adjust. This is in addition to the concerted time we need to digest fresh input. In other words, it isn’t enough to get quiet and read. We also need to be quiet and contemplate what we read.

Abusing this principle is dangerous, and here’s why: If you stop running your life and your life starts running you with its constant demands, your soul’s vision shrinks even though you are running hard through life. If your head is down running as hard as you can to keep up, all you see is the ground. Being too busy to stop and envision means your world shrinks and your reason for existing gets small, repetitive, and uninteresting—and this is how burnout occurs.

A person doesn’t burn out because of a large, demanding job. A person burns out because of a small job.

We were created to interface with God. This vision of our humanity is big, compelling, and it demands from us our best. Anything that diminishes this vision makes us smaller as people.

Reducing life to fifteen minutes here and there, errands on demand, meals on the run, and multiple nights of obligations while multi-tasking further reduces us. At the end of the day, if we have merely run from here to there thinking we are accomplishing something important, we have in reality shrunk our vision to checking our to-do list, texts, email, and whatever else is screaming for our attention.

Being in demand makes you busy. It doesn’t make you important, and it unequivocally compromises your ability to consistently care for your heart and soul. This renders a dull edge.

A person can be as busy as a one-armed paper hanger and their soul can still burn out. Being sharp, focused, and alive isn’t predicated upon how busy you are, but on how expansive your vision is. You can’t see a vision unless you stop, look up, consider, renew, retool, and rejuvenate on a regular basis.

Bottom line: Failing to take personal time to manage your heart and soul is essential. Failure to do so will leave you dull.

Two things to remember: a) Once an edge has been dulled it is difficult to restore. Said another way, once a person burns out, reigniting the fire is a dicey proposition. b) There isn't any tool quite as dangerous as a tool with a dull edge. In order to be a safe and effective person for your spouse, your kids, your associates, etc., you must tend your soul’s edge with consistency, dedication, and thoughtfulness.

I learned several major lessons from my little silver hatchet. First, it goes easier on left hands if they get to work above the blade. Second, a cheap edge is a poor buy. Even more valuable, though, is the emphasis made in my mind about the necessity of keeping myself sharp.

A dull human is a tough character to put an edge on. A dull follower of Jesus Christ is also a tough character to put an edge on, and truth be told, there might not be anyone more dangerous than a dull Christian.

Christ came in order that we might, through his death, have an edge put on us; an edge of hope, meaning, and life as those regenerated by the grace of God and called as His own. Further, He blessed us with the Spirit to temper and maintain the edge. God set the tempo for us by demonstrating that even in His divinity He took time to rest. What’s good for Him has to be good for you and me.

When you think about it, now is a great time for touching up our edges.