by Sonya M. Whetstone

 “What was it you were calling this thing, Sister?” I was clawing at the earth with a wooden handled instrument and digging out hidden weeds. One of the sisters had coined the name for what I was doing, and now I was wondering what it was.

“Betsying,” said Sister Carol Bernice, was what we were doing. We were digging out weeds and pulling up the remnants of the former crops that had already been harvested. “Betsy” was the name of the garden tool that Sister Carol Bernice found particularly unique for this task. She explained that when she did the same task before, she was supplied with a long-handled tool. It seemed an appropriate choice, not having to kneel in the dirt, but Sister Carol Bernice always found herself abandoning the long-handled tool to get closer to the dirt. So she traded her comfortable distance for Betsy.

“Where did I get that name? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I was singing while I was using it.” She then mentioned a singer who I did not recognize that must have inspired her.

 We worked on in silence a little longer, and then Sister Carol Bernice broke in again.

“Betsying is my favorite kind of work. It doesn’t carry the stress that planting does. I am always wondering if I am doing it wrong. Then when nothing grows, I know I was doing it wrong. Or harvesting. There are so many questions to consider, Is it ready? Is it not? Should I pick it? Should I leave it? But with this you can just work and not worry. You can’t fail.”

Sister Carol Bernice’s comment reminded me of the recent failed potato harvest of the Good Earth Farm. We are so afraid of failure and wish to avoid it, with good reason. Failure hurts; it makes us vulnerable. It confronts us with our own limitations and frailty, a reminder difficult to digest. But Sister Carol Bernice was not enjoying the work in the garden simply because it was impossible to fail. It is still hard work, dirty and necessary. We were getting the earth ready to receive the promise of new crops. At this point, we did not have to worry over the success or failure of the next harvest. We did not have to wonder if and how we went wrong or even anticipate the possibility of an abundant reward. We were simply working hard so that a new crop could be possible, so that we could hope in another harvest.

Maybe, sometimes our work is rewarding for this reason: It is a rest from failure. In this way, our work becomes our rest. Maybe it is ok that we can avoid failure sometimes. Sometimes we can kneel close to the dirt with a Betsy and enjoy the hard work without fear. We can cradle the hope for what might be, knowing harder work will come, failure will happen, but for today, for now, we can rest.

 Sonya M. Whetstone is originally from Georgia and joined the Common Friars in August 2010. Her interests include writing creative non-fiction, obsessing over movies, and acting as editor of the Altar & Table.


One Response to “Betsying”

  1. Kim Says:

    Hi Sonya,

    I loved your reflection!

    This reminds me of one of my favorite therapy concepts – “flow experiences.” These are occupations that are so meaningful and enjoyable that you lose yourself in them – becoming unaware of the passage of time, worry, pain, etc. These experiences are truly a gift of God!

    What a blessing it is that God has given you and your community such meaningful, restorative, and productive work… and a beautiful way to glorify the Lord!

    Fear of failure is something that I have struggled with before, so I like your image of kneeling close to the dirt and enjoying the essence of hard work without fear. 🙂

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