Monday, June 15, 2009

Repost: 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 observe 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.

Cultivating character sometimes calls for planting and uprooting at the same time.

(Tomorrow: Halting and Healing)

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