Even at the age of 7, I was an indoor girl. My parents could always find me on a window seat or perched somewhere upstairs, lost in a book. It was a rarity to see me running around outside, playing sports or getting muddy. In fact, the only time I really got my clothes dirty was when my dad would drag me outside to help him in the garden.
I hated it at first: the blasting sun, dirt under my fingernails and having to wear oversized gardening gloves. But my dad’s excitement over the garden intrigued me. We’d read the little seed packets together and he’d show me how to bury them, water them and pack the earth just right. In spite of myself, the love of the garden rubbed off. I would run outside every day after we planted the seeds and look for the first green shoots to pop up. As tomatoes, zucchinis, peppers, beans, lettuce, cucumbers and squash would fill our house throughout the summer, I’d marvel how they all came from those little seeds we buried in the dirt.
As I’ve grown, the wonder of the garden has only become stronger. I’ve by no means become an expert gardener. But even as an enthusiastic amateur, God has used it to teach me about the way He works in the world and in my heart.
A Sabbath Mindset
“Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.”
(Wendell Berry, Sabbath poems)
In the garden I can catch my breath; I can hear myself think. Weeding may be a mundane task, but it gives me joy and focus, especially as a respite from my Twitter feed or iCal. Like Berry says, it brings a racing mind to rest in the presence of God.
I am in awe of creation as I watch the plants grow and produce fruit. The garden shows me the beauty of God’s small creations and directs me to admire and praise Him for the cultivating He does in my own life. It gives me a place in His design, as a steward and a caretaker. I turn from myself and turn to Him and the beauty of His world. It is an act of worship.
Tilling and the Toil
“Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.”
Gardening serves also as a reminder of the fall. I find this particularly evident while tilling the soil with my dad in the spring. The ground is hard and because our soil is especially clay-like, tilling sometimes feels like chopping up stone. Even when harvesting, we notice in frustration plants getting destroyed by bugs or animals. We build better fences and try different remedies, but sometimes plants die or good fruit is lost. We are reminded that creation is fallen and it is not yet restored.
This toil parallels every other labor in our lives, particularly in schoolwork and in careers. Joy and frustration coexist. We want to work for God’s glory in the world, to use our abilities to rule and be good stewards. Though we were created for these roles and should still be devoted to them, our work is plagued after the fall. There will be hardship in our careers, in our relationships, in everything over which we labor. Things will go wrong and try as we might, a utopia is an impossibility this side of heaven.
The Reason for Growth
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:7
We bury the seeds in spring. Having been inert, lifeless little things we’ve picked from dead plants, it seems unlikely anything will happen. Sure, we water them and fuss over the soil. And that is important. But ultimately, even if all other conditions were perfect, these seeds would never grow into plants without the sun.
So it is with God’s restorative work in the world. Being redeemed through Christ, we are called to be his salt and light. Through us, He is beginning His renewal. Praise the Lord when our lives produce fruit, when we see His truth becoming real in the hearts of the people we minister to. But we must remember, just as we know in the garden, that it is not our abilities or efforts that bring about renewal in the world.
The growth we see is an encouragement that God is faithful and that there is more fruit to come. Above all, gardening makes me long for the complete restoration at Christ’s coming. It humbles me to know that God desires to work through me, a broken, imperfect gardener with a lot left to learn.