I’ve already confessed that I am not a gardener. Both of my parents enjoy gardening, but somehow their knowledge was not passed along to me. However, during our week in Cincinnati, I spent more time working in gardens than I had up to that point. I think gardening offers many metaphors for our spiritual journey and growth. Don’t you think?
Soil makes a difference. On Monday morning, we were planting at the Civic Garden Center in soil that had been brought in. It was easy to work with, and we knew that the shrubs and trees that we were planting would thrive. Monday afternoon, we were in the community garden of a church, tilling land that had until last year been covered by a house. We dug up some big rocks, a few bricks, and some other artifacts that showed the ground hadn’t been used to grow much for a long time. Some areas were very dry, and there was also a lot of hard packed clay, but one of the volunteers noted that the soil would improve each year as they cultivated it. Similarly, we need to cultivate our spiritual soil. Tending regularly to the practices of prayer, worship, and study of the Scriptures will encourage growth. Neglected spiritual soil is less fertile. It is more difficult for our faith to take root and grow.
Weeds grow like… well, weeds. We spent almost the entire day on Thursday weeding, and while we completely cleared a good number of beds, there were still more areas that we could have weeded. It seems that the things we want to grow require such tender care, but the things we don’t want to grow have no problem at all taking root and settling in. They rob the good plants of the resources they need to grow. It’s not enough to pull out what you can see; you have to dig in deep to get out the root. Otherwise, the weeds will come right back. And it isn’t easy to get out the whole root. Even if you do manage to completely clear out weeds from a bed, they will still find their way in one way or another. Weeding is a never-ending task.
Our lives are full of weeds – those things that crowd out the good fruit that we are cultivating, the things that sap our time, energy, and resources and leave us without anything left to give. Weeds can be like sin or temptation – the things that creep into our lives and take root. Or they can be like an invasive species – something that we initially invite into our lives that quickly takes over. It doesn’t matter how fertile or infertile our soil is – the weeds will still grow. Weeds keep us from producing the kind of fruit that God calls us to produce, the fruits of the Spirit. Weeds separate us from God and from each other. Weeding is a constant task in our lives. Sometimes, when we realize that our gardens have become beds of tangled weeds, we need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to come in and till up our soil and start anew.
You have to know what you’re planting. When we put seeds in the community garden, we had to mark the rows to remind us of what had been planted. We had to space things out and plant to the proper depth, and so on. You don’t have to plant weeds – they just come. But you do have to plant the seeds that will grow into the plants that you want. I’ve never had to nurture impatience, judgment, or selfishness. Those tend to sprout up no matter what I do. But the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – those are all things that need to be planted and tended in ways to make them grow.
I could go on for a while with the metaphors, but I think you get the idea. In this growing season, let us consider how we are tending our own gardens, and how we are helping to nurture other fields. Think especially of the younger generations. How will they be taught to cultivate their own spiritual path? Let us look to the true Master Gardener for wisdom and guidance.