While I have joined millions of Americans who make daily use of a Kindle, I also have a modest collection of children’s books housed on the bottom shelf in my office for easy access. As a new foster mother to a voracious reader, it is a great joy to share my love of literature and it is “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” first published in 1939, that caught my attention this week.
Remember the story? Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, tenderly named Mary Anne, face a crisis: technology, in the form of new gasoline, electric and diesel shovels, threatens to put them out of business.
Unlike other owners who chose to sell their steam engines, Mike is loyal to Mary Anne. Based on his years of experience working with her, he has confidence in their ability to get the job done.
When he reads in his local newspaper that the town of Popperville is about to build a new town hall, he not only bids on the job but makes a bold promise to the town’s selectmen: he and Mary Anne will dig the cellar in one day! If they fail, the town will owe him nothing.
It is the conversation Mike Mulligan shares with a young child — arriving at sun up to watch the digging begin — that touches me right where I live, some 73 years later in a very different America.
“Do you think you will finish by sundown?” the child asks Mike Mulligan.
“Sure,” says Mike, “if you stay and watch us. We always work faster and better when someone is watching us.”
Americans do not like to be watched. Managed. Supervised or critiqued. We are independent and treasure our freedoms. We like to do our own thing. Have our own schedules. Create our own rules.
The question begging to be asked, in this case, is how do independence-loving Americans have a relationship with God who is omnipresent — there for all time and in all places? What is it like living with the belief that the spirit of God surrounds us wherever we go? Are we self-conscious? Guilt ridden? Defiant? Are we invigorated? Motivated? Empowered?
The Bible reminds us that He is watching on a daily basis. That God works through people and events. That if we trust His advice, He will encourage us to make the right decisions through very personal experiences. God’s personal nature can also be soothing, for His continual presence reminds us that He has a never-ending interest in us. He seeks us out. He places in our lives people to love and pray for us.
Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne dug a little faster and a little better as the crowd gathered that day.
“Hurry, Mike Mulligan! Hurry! Hurry!” shouted the little boy in a voice that rose above the crowd.
As the sun set and the dust cleared, people counted four corners and four neat cellar walls.
“Hurray!” they shouted.
God is cheering us on today because He knows the digging is difficult. But He draws near to encourage a relationship with Him and to foster our best efforts.