He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored. Proverbs 27, verse 18.
Yesterday was a big day on my project. My current role is to serve as the lead on a small business assessment at an insurance company in Michigan. Whether you know it or not, besides the whole national health care drive, your health insurance companies have been undergoing major changes at the direction of Uncle Sam. The kinds of electronic transactions they use have all been updated (required by the Federal government), and starting in 2013, the kinds of diagnosis codes your doctor uses will all be new. It would seem like a small thing, a claim code, but the ICD codes used for diagnosis are pervasive throughout health insurance plans. They touch almost everything, and complying with Federal edicts to use them isn’t an easy chore.
This week, we formally kicked off an assessment project of how this customer will change from using the old codes to the new ones. As the lead, I briefed a team of about forty company executives, directors and managers, telling them what the next 7 weeks will look like and how my team and I propose to assess their readiness for compliance. For me, at work, it was the formal start of project execution, and it was my first face-to-face interaction with the CEO-level officers who will be our primary customers.
When I read the verse afterwards, I immediately thought it was a perfect summation of my day. To execute an assessment like this means many days of planning and preparation at the behest of a higher customer who is paying dearly for your services. The work you do will (literally) affect the livelihoods of thousands of people, so you need to do it humbly, patiently and correctly. As much as any job, you need to do your job well and do it the best you can.
When you work like that, I think it’s like tending to a tree, being a kind of farmer. For something to bear good fruit, you work with it humbly, patiently and correctly. As another example (this one more literal), outside my home office is a peach tree I planted three years ago. This year, we got a big bowl of peaches from it. With some tending, next year there may be most of a bushel. My tree there has grown from a four-branched five foot tree to a healthy peach tree with dozens of branches and many hundreds of springtime blossoms. All that happened without my doing much to tend to it. Come February, after the danger of Texas frost has passed, I will prune it and then let nature do the rest. Some pesticides and bird netting may be in order for next summer, but if all goes well, with some responsible tending, in 2012 there should be plenty of fruit. That’s a practical miracle you know, that a tree would produce fruit; that it could bring forth more life with a person tending to it.
But that’s how things go in farming, in work, and in life. If you pay attention to them, give them your best work, and tend to what’s growing, generally it grows better. What’s more, if you do that in honor of something bigger than yourself, SOMEONE bigger than yourself, you lose yourself in that which is better and produce even better fruit. My mom once told me that the best advice they ever got was to lose themselves in a cause bigger than themselves at least once in their life. In this way, they might truly live in service to others and become better.
Well, isn’t that some of what the verse is saying? Tend to your work and tend to what you love that you might enjoy its bounty. And serve something bigger, better than yourself, the master of your heart, that you might receive honor in addition to that harvest. We do these things by working responsibly and diligently with the tools and talents we are given. Then, we get to work more by helping to bring in the harvest, and edify those who are over us or came before us. After all, to serve is to be truly noble, and to share the bounty with those you would honor brings even more honor on yourself.
I’ll remember that when it comes time to prune the peach tree in a few months. And I already remember it every day at work now. This isn’t the first project I have led in the company for whom I now work, but it is the one with the biggest impact. I don’t mind saying that my team did a great job in the presentation, and that I was able to neither bore nor alienate the executives. I enjoy public speaking, demonstrating my command of a subject and feeling even like God is calming me to speak well and confidently to strangers. We even got two “well done” comments from the CFO, and that is no small achievement for a company that is known to be skeptical to outsiders. It feels good to prepare to do good work and then successfully do it. I think it feels like harvesting the fruit that grew because you tended to your trees.