“Truly charity has no limit; for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by His Spirit dwelling in each one of us, calling us to a life of devotion and inviting us to bloom in the garden where He has planted and directing us to radiate the beauty and spread the fragrance of His Providence.” – St. Francis de Sales, 1567-1622
I grew up in a family that was dependent on the Ohio summers to fill the basement deep freezer with vegetables and fruits to last until the next year. Most of the vegetables came from the backyard garden that stretched across the entire width of my parent’s property. And with six kids in the family, there were always plenty of hands – albeit somewhat reluctant ones – to do the planting, weeding, watering, and picking. There was always corn, tomatoes, green beans, peas, onions, and lima beans.
We picked strawberries at a local farm, black raspberries and rhubarb at my grandparents’, and apples from a neighbor’s tree. They made their way into shortcakes, jams, or applesauce.
As an adult, most of my summer gardening has been confined to pots and planters – especially as a pastor who moves in the middle of the growing season. Each new location requires a check of the Department of Agriculture geographic zones for plant hardiness. According to their web site, the USDA plant hardiness map is “the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location.” This year’s crops are limited to basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lavender, and a few flowers.
For many, gardening is not only a way to provide fresh flowers for the table and fresh vegetables for dinner; it is also a spiritual experience. With good reason Martin Luther wrote, “God is entirely and personally present in the wilderness, in the garden, and in the field.”
Gardening can enrich our understanding of the world God created and its incredible interdependence. As one of my favorite hymns says, “in every seed there is a promise.” We till the land, enrich it for planting, and lay in the seeds or seedlings in great expectation. We rediscover the importance of earthworms, insects, and birds in the success of our crops. We marvel at how the seed unfolds in due time when supplied with good soil, water, and sunlight.
We hope that what we nurture will grow and blossom, that what we care for will be fruitful and multiply. We learn what it means to be faithful stewards by enjoying and sharing the bounty of our garden plots. We learn how important it is to “do no harm” to our fragile environment.
A garden also requires a certain discipline, much like our practices of prayer, worship, and Bible reading. I often begin the gardening season filled with great energy and passion about transforming the landscape around me or eating fresh vegetables, cooking with fresh herbs. But sometimes that zeal flags, as other things compete for my attention. I get careless and forget to water for a day or two. I forget to trim or prune, or let the weeds run wild. The garden rambles out of control, much like a spiritual life that goes unattended.
In every place and in every location there are seeds of love and mercy to be planted. Some will take root immediately and grow like wildflowers. Others will need years of attention to come to a place of maturity. Others will lay fallow, until something or someone prods them to sprout and push their heads above the soil line. Our job as Christians is to scatter and nurture those seeds wherever we may go. The time of harvest is up to God.
From the quote at the top of this column, we have taken the modern mandate to “bloom where you are planted.” And I believe that in some way we are all capable of doing that. We are each capable of finding the work that God calls us to exactly where we are. We may not be particularly happy about our current location or circumstance, but we can trust that God is here walking alongside us to guide, protect and nurture.
The work that God calls us to might not look like what we had envisioned, or may not be with the people we had thought. But there is always the possibility of starting some new thing; to see a problem or a need and create something that brings new life or healing to our communities. It is good and faithful work that brings glory to God.
We say that those with a gift for gardening have a “green thumb.” They have an innate ability to get even the most damaged or neglected plant to grow well. And while you may instead have a “brown thumb,” you do have special gifts to be used for building up the kingdom of God. If you’ve been wondering how you can help your church or praying about what God is calling you to do, there is an online spiritual gifts quiz at www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts-online-assessment that might help.
If you take the assessment, I’d love to hear about your results. Or to talk with you about the places in our community that might be ripe for scattering the love of God. We each have a place to grow – whether it be in the sun or the shade – as witnesses to the great love of God and the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. We each have places to cultivate, working alongside God to transform lives.
And I look forward to discovering those places here in the Mount Kisco area as we nurture and tend our ministries together!
In simple humility, let our gardener God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. – James 1:21 (The Message paraphrase)
In God’s care and service,