I learned to love gardening from my mother while growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. When I was in grade school, she gave me some space in her flower bed and some seeds to plant, and I was hooked after seeing my first sunflower grow from a small seed to a giant that towered twice as high as I was. Phoenix wasn’t the easiest place to garden, with summer temperatures reaching the 120s and winter nights below freezing, but it taught me to confront challenges and keep going in the face of difficulties.
Today, twenty years later, I garden in Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the United States. The temperature is much more moderate, but finding space and time are equivalent challenges. Over the years, I’ve been drawn away from the television and the comfort of a soft couch to my knees as I pull weeds, plant seeds, and pray. The physical act of gardening is only a small part of the entire story. Blisters and aches last for a few days, but the lessons I’ve learned will last a lifetime.
Gardening has taught me hard work. In the spring, the soil must be prepared. There are weeds to remove, compost to dig in, and trees to trim. Sometimes I’m temped to slack off and skip a few weeks, but I have learned that it’s easier to get the weeds while they’re small, and dig while it’s cool. Proverbs 14:23 wisely teaches that “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” This is true in gardening and life in general.
Over the years I’ve been drawn away from the television and the comfort of a soft couch to my knees as I pull weeds, plant seeds, and pray. [But] the physical act of gardening is only a small part of the entire story.
I’ve learned to have hope when the world wants to give up. I must believe that the dry seeds I plant will one day spring to life and produce a harvest that will be worth my effort. In the same way, I’ve learned to hope that a kind word I speak to a neighbor walking their dog will encourage them, or a prayer I pray will be answered. And each spring, as tender plants emerge from the carefully prepared soil, prayers are answered.
Gardening has also taught me patience. As I browse through a seed catalog, I can almost taste the harvest. Unfortunately, even selecting one-day shipping won’t speed things up very much. Plants grow on their own timetable, governed by the seasons. No amount of worry or work on my part can make them grow any faster. Sometimes in life we must soak up the sun, wind, or rain and wait; God does the growing.
While I must wait patiently, I must also remain watchful. Other creatures are also watching my plants grow, and they seem to enjoy the taste of my strawberries just hours before I hope to. Slugs and aphids, debt and lust—these are some things we must guard our gardens and lives against.
I must remain faithful. I must continue to tend my garden for however long it takes to reach the harvest. My plants will wither and die if I become distracted with other interests instead of watering in the heat. Waiting only halfway to the harvest results in sour grapes and green pumpkins.
When the harvest finally arrives, I know a joy that is sweeter than any juicy peach and more nourishing than any colorful vegetable. It is the joy that comes from planning, hard work, and patient watchfulness. It is the result of hope, faith, and a labor of love. The instant satisfaction offered everywhere these days seems like a limp, withered carrot compared to the crisp crunch we are meant to enjoy.
After the harvest, plants return to the earth to provide nutrients for next year’s garden. Everything has a purpose, nothing is wasted. My plants have spent all their energy to fulfill the purpose they were planted for. I hope to spend the rest of my time wisely, following the rhythm of the seasons that God has created instead of the hyper-caffeinated, Hollywood-driven, bigger-better-now world we live in. I will slow down and feel the cool of the morning and heat of the day again. I’ll listen to the birds and chat with my neighbors while growing some nutritious vegetables to eat, flowers to brighten one’s day—and I’ll learn a little about life in the process.
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