Physical work can be great medicine

By Curtis Shelburne: Religion columnist

Physical work can be really good medicine. I’m convinced that “health surveys” need to add a few questions to the traditional ones about cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. I’d suggest a few like these:

• Do you know where the pull start rope on your lawn mower is? Have you pulled it lately?

• The object in the drawing (you’ll have to imagine this) is called a hammer and is used to drive nails into lumber. To show that you’ve actually used one somewhat recently, please draw a line to the end that should actually go into your hand, as opposed to the end that should go on nails (the kind of nails not attached to your fingers).

• The object in the drawing [another workout for your imagination] is called a shovel. Among the many uses of a shovel is planting things, and studies show that people who occasionally plant things are 78 percent healthier than people who don’t. (I don’t actually know anything about such studies or if they even exist. But I like people who plant stuff, and I think they should be healthier than people who don’t. About 78 percent healthier, I’d say. So say it I did.)

• Approximately how many blisters did you get last year from building, making, cooking, arranging, or crafting stuff? Blisters hurt. But they are good for you. And studies ought to show that the healthiest people get the Recommended Annual Dose of blisters.

Physical work, healthy? Yes, in every way.

Sir Winston Churchill believed that. Churchill was a ball of fire (even without his cigar, and he was never without his cigar), but he occasionally flamed out and endured what he called his “black dog days” of depression. To chase those days away, nothing was better than working on his estate at Chartwell to build an actual brick wall, or construct a pond, or paint a picture.

My mother, a wise and wonderful woman, also knew about the “black dog,” though she didn’t call it that. Her “therapy” was much the same, involving a grubbing hoe, potting and planting plants, and dirt under the fingernails.

I think St. Paul would agree. In fact, I think he did. I understand that the context, the times, and the world were a good bit different when he wrote to the Thessalonian Christians. But I’m still not sure we should be particularly proud of so often striking out on the three things he says: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

I did some serious digging today (Monday). Eureka! Blisters! Like many preachers, I dig Mondays. It just happened that today, I dug all day. Literally. Good news. I think I may have grubbed up and done away with the “root of all evil.” I know the great apostle said that root is the “love of money.” I wouldn’t disagree with him.

But it sure looked like elm to me.