With a Hammer and a Hoe

By James Dillet Freeman

The following article is adapted from the 1988 edition of Prayer: The Master Key by James Dillet Freeman.

Three men were fishing in a small boat on a lake when a storm arose. The winds rocked the boat, the waves washed over the sides, and the boat began to take on water.

“We had better pray,” cried the first man.

“We had better bail,” cried the second man.

“Let us pray,” said the third man, “but let us bail while we pray.”

There is a prayer that is action.

Too often we think we cannot pray unless we are sitting still, eyes closed, body relaxed, thought suspended.

We are right to think that prayer is stillness, but stillness is not all that prayer is. Prayer is action too. And is not stillness part of action?

The Hindus say that there are four roads to fulfillment. One of them is the road of action or work.

To work with no attachment to your work is to reach God. This is the way a bird sings. It lights on a bough, bursts into song, and having finished, flies on, not looking back for payment or applause. Perhaps, after awhile, it will light on another bough—and sing again—but it will not be the same song.

This is the way a flower blooms. It opens its petals, pours out its fragrance, gives itself to any passing bee or butterfly or breeze, and then, letting its petals one by one flutter to the ground, is gone. Perhaps, after awhile, it may bloom again—but it will not be the same bloom.

This is the way a man [woman] works too, when he [she] works at his [her] highest pitch. He [She] gives himself [herself] to what he [she] is doing; he [she] lets himself [herself] be used; he [she] becomes a free channel through which ideas and energy flow.

And you do this, not for the results you are going to gain from your work, but for the joy-in-work itself. You do it because you are a working part of the great works we call the world.

This is the way a man [woman] builds a dam or a bridge—or irrigates a desert or reclaims a marsh.

This is the way a man [woman] plants a tree—for the joy of being part of life.

It matters little that he [she] may never sit under its shade or see its flowers in spring or pluck fruit from its branches.

The best work that men [women] do is done because it is the nature of men [women] to work. There is the chasm to be spanned. There is the desert to be watered.

“Why do you want to climb the mountain?” we ask the mountain climber.

“Because it is there,” he [she] answers.

And climbing the mountain is as much a way of prayer as sitting still and speaking words.

Every refusal to tum back in the face of difficulty is a denial of those forces that forever gnaw at the edge of enterprise to thwart and wear away the questing spirit of man [woman].

Every dogged step is an affirmation of faith in life and of the value of life.

There are people who are not articulate; they are doers more than speakers; people of deeds rather than words.

But God accepts the prayers of their wordless hands just as joyously as He accepts the speech of the word-sayers.

God finds all gifts good, and there are many ways to Him.

Apples are good, but grain and grass are not less good.

Redbirds are good, but earthworms are not less good.

They are different. That is all.

A friend of mine lost his son. He did not say much to anyone, but the next day he began to repaper the rooms of his house. He worked until every wall in his house had new paper on it. I cannot believe that his work was not as acceptable an offering to his God as if he had gone wailing on his knees, lighting candles, beating his heart, and intoning Kyrie eleisons.

A minister asked the people of a country community to pray for the poor in the community. Several members of the church gathered and were praying when a boy appeared.

“My father could not come to pray,” he said, “so he sent what he could.” Outside the church was a wagon loaded with food.

Which is the greater prayer for another—words of blessing you may speak for him or acts of love you may do for him?

“Without God, we cannot,” someone has said. “Without us, God will not.”

God will not do the work for us, but He will work through us.

God will not make the world a better place for us to live in, but He will give us the power to make it a better place.

A man bought a run-down farm. The land was weed-infested, rock-ridden, eroded, depleted. The buildings were falling down. After long labor he turned it into a model farm. He repaired the buildings. He dug the weeds and rocks out of his fields. He dammed up the wasting waters. He rebuilt the wasted soil.

One day his minister visited him.

“What a beautiful farm God and you have here,” said the minister.

“So it is,” said the man.

“I know how much this place has meant to you,” said the minister. “You must have prayed about it a great deal.”

“I have that,” said the man. “And I did most of my praying with a hammer and a hoe.”

Only God can make a tree, but if you want an apple orchard, someone has to work very hard.

James Dillet Freeman (1912–2003) was an internationally acclaimed poet, author, and lecturer. A Unity minister, he served as director of Unity's ministerial program—today’s Unity Institute® and Seminary, as well as director of Silent Unity.