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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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The Long Paddock: Working to keep the spirit at bay?

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PHOTO: Tobie Chapman

There’s much to be said these days about the need for a sense of play. We are all far too aware of how stressful life can be and how very busy and absorbed with work we can become. It often seems as though we have almost forgotten what it means to be playful, to be light-hearted, to have fun.  Life in the long paddocks of remote and rural country places has a way of bringing one back to a few essential truths. A drive through the long paddock gives time to reflect on the things that matter and the things that don’t.

Recently, driving somewhere in the long paddock between Nyngan and Cobar, I remembered something I didn’t realise I knew. I remembered what it feels like to be playful. It may be that the new red heeler pup I’ve been given has honed my sense of play. While I’m quietly fixated on work, on one dimension of my life, she cruises around with a look of pure joy on her face. This is one little red heeler who hasn’t lost a sense of inner direction or identity. This little dog comes from a working dog family. Her parents work hard. Her siblings are top dogs around cattle. Hers is a world where work matters and life is definitely serious when stock needs to be moved. Work for her is in her veins, it is in her makeup, its in her DNA. However, like so many country working dogs, she has a disposition worth cultivating. She knows that work is important. She gets things done, but then she plays. I mean, she really plays. Work matters, but not all the time.

One of the Lessons from the Long Paddock may well be that in order to nurture a healthy spiritual life, we need to remember how to be playful. We need to wonder about an excessive absorption in work for reasons beyond the work itself. It may just be that we have forgotten that – as people of faith – our work is done in order to provide for ourselves and to serve others. We are meant to create space for life, for leisure and for relationships. When we are fixated on work, on one dimension of our lives, balance is gone and a deep sense of self is lost. A day or two in the Long Paddock, a day or two of quiet reflective time, can bring us back to the things that matter. Work matters. But so does leisure. No leisure time means no reflective time. No reflective time means no prayer time. No prayer time means a diminished relationship with God. Work hard, sure. But lets not measure the value of our lives by how busy we can be. Think red heeler: work hard and then go try round up a few wild ducks. It looks like fun.

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