Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Planting and Plucking

A time to plant and a time to uproot…

                        Ecclesiastes 3.2

The Anonymous Gardener

There’s a small traffic island around the corner from us, probably no bigger than five square feet. I’m told the city pays a stipend to an elderly neighbor who gardens it. Although I’ve yet to meet him/her, I make a point of walking by every few days to look at what’s been done. It’s never the same. Its changes flawlessly respect seasonal conditions. Spring blooms are planted in late winter and just as the weather gets too warm to sustain their beauty, they’re pulled out for more suitable plants. As the days shorten, bright summer flowers disappear, followed by muted autumnal ones. Heartier shrubs arrive for the coldest, most hostile months. The gardener ornaments their dullness with festive lights and colorful glass bulbs. While the casual passer-by admires the tiny garden’s loveliness as it is, we who see it often find its evolution inspiring. The anonymous gardener’s commitment, care, and skill are regularly discussed, with someone never failing to add, “That little plot of land speaks volumes about our city!”

How Does Our Garden Grow?

It’s easy to impress strangers with our faith. But people we hold nearest, those we encounter regularly, observe our process as critically as what it produces. They note our seasonal shifts and how we groom our lives in response. This is true, of course, for everyone. As followers of Jesus, however, we have an extra obligation. Our productivity—the beauty derived from consistently planting and plucking, uprooting dried-up ideas so new ones can thrive—reveals more than adept life skills. It speaks volumes about our Savior. So it’s not a bad idea to ask, “How does our garden grow? Do others witness how we nurture our faith?”

Plant Ahead

Four attributes distinguish real gardeners from wannabes: enthusiasm, patience, experience, and vision. The best gardeners relish the opportunity to brave chilly air and dig up fallow ground to plant ahead. It’s hard work, but they stay at it, waiting patiently for their work’s reward. They apply everything they’ve learned to what they do now. The more they know, the bigger, more creative, and more confident their vision becomes for future possibilities.

In Romans 5.3-4, Paul outlines spiritual growth along similar lines. “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance,” He says. We weather cold, hostile atmospheres to break through hard ground so love and forgiveness can flourish. It’s not easy to plant ahead, but we persevere. Perseverance produces character—it develops our knowledge and skills. And character begets hope. Our vision expands; our sense of potential heightens.

How clearly others recognize Christ’s power in us depends on how well we cultivate new challenges—deepening our roots in God’s Word, branching out in wider directions, and vividly displaying God’s splendor of love and acceptance. We uproot exhausted ideas and behaviors occupying space we can put to better use. Cursory reading of Solomon’s planting/plucking contrast suggests sowing and reaping. But our seasons don’t track with nature. They change constantly, placing our lives in perpetual flux that requires diligent care. Because of this, the time to plant and the time to pluck are often one and the same.

How do our gardens grow? Do others witness how we nurture our faith?

(Tomorrow: Halting and Healing)


kkryno said...

When I lived in Albuquerque, the neighbor across the street had the yard and gardens that were the envy of the street. Though very tidy and meticulous, it was never stuffy and always inviting. Alice was my favorite neighbor, ready with a kind word and lots of sound advice (only if you asked for it though.) My cat used to travel across the way and follow her around, perusing her pathways and meowing at her the whole time . You could see her carrying on a conversation with him from the other side of the street. I'm sure that he misses her. I know I do! I hope to see her when I visit home in December. She helped fuel my desire to garden.

Tim said...

Hi Vikki!

I've known a lot of kind-hearted, generous gardeners like Alice. And I've known a couple cranky ones, too--both of them men, it turns out, who kept to themselves and were happy to have their gardens admired from a distance.

But what was most striking about all of them were their commitment and imagination. They were always open to new opportunities and had remarkable patience to learn what they had to do to make their latest project(s) grow. No matter how perfect I or anyone else thought their gardens were, they always eagerly discussed improvements they wanted to make, challenges they wanted to take on. They and their gardens were always works in progress.

There's a lot for us to learn from gardeners...

Blessings always,

PS: I'm so excited to hear you're visiting NM next month; I know Alaska must be a little tough this time of year and I'm thrilled you'll be taking a little break in the lower 48!

Anonymous said...

Tim, you always seem to have the uncanny ability to pick the perfect analogy to drive your reflection. Once again, this is a gem. Thanks!

Tim said...

You're too kind, Sherry. As we work through Ecclesiastes together, there'll be a lot of analogy going on. Keep me in your prayers that I stay on target and do my best to handle the Word correctly.