For a number of years I’ve wanted to start a vegetable garden, but circumstances prevented me: too pregnant, too tired, too clueless, and finally, no good place to put one.
This year we went for it. That’s not to say that I am no longer clueless or tired, but I have no excuse regarding pregnancy and we’ve got a good place for one and I’ve got a ten year old who’s got loads of initiative and zero fear. Which probably explains how we ended up with three vegetable gardens instead of one, so much for starting small. There’s the kids’ garden (actually Eliza’s garden according to the ethics of the little red hen), mom’s garden (that’d be mine), and The Big Garden (planted on a wing and a prayer in the rain, thanks to the help of a friend and their tiller).
As Eliza and I were showing our work to my mom, she commented that Eliza’s garden looked a bit like a grave. And she was right. Eliza had hauled rocks up from the creek on a sled to make a border for her garden. With nothing growing in it and only the plant markers visible, I hadn’t realized how strange it looked. Whenever I looked at it, I was thinking of all the seeds we’d put in the ground and what it would be like to see sprouts or actual food there. It disturbed me to think of it that way, yet, verse after verse bubbled up in my mind, reminding me that a grave is the only place where a garden can grow.
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:23-26 ESV)
It can be discouraging to look at the garden of your life and wonder where the fruit is. But perhaps instead of looking for the fruit, we should ask ourselves if we’ve done any dying lately. There’s no harvest without death. The very death that Jesus died on our behalf, enables us to die to sin as well. He suffered in his body so that we could turn from bitterness, envy, and strife. Then He takes the death of our bitterness and it falls into the ground and unleashes the sweetest fruit the world has ever tasted. Our envy is buried in the darkness and springs up a tender shoot of love in the light.
When fear and worry about the future have us stuck, unable to move, the death of Christ compels us. And through His death, we die to fear and are raised with roots of confidence that go down so deep in Him and His promises that they cannot be pulled up, blown over or scorched.
Do you know a fruitful person like this? Someone who has love, joy, peace, patience and all the rest in all the nooks and crannies of their life? Someone whose daily life is brimming with faithfulness? Does imitating it make you feel like a fake? Could it be because all that faithfulness and fruit is the result of their daily death to sin and isn’t something that can be replicated apart from death? You cannot be like them, just like you cannot be like Christ, without dying.
Fruitful people aren’t smarter or better or more organized or more free-spirited or prettier or plainer or keener about productivity than you. They’ve made a practice of dying. They love to obey their Father by following in the steps of their firstborn brother, Jesus.
But what do we do when the seeds are planted, yet the garden looks eerily like a grave? We look at it with the eyes of faith. The eyes of faith can peer through the soil and see the garden that will overtake the grave.
Faith is planting a seed and covering it in blackness, with the hope that life will emerge. Faith does not demand fruit, it does not insist on fast gratification, it hopes and hangs on, so that when a sprout pushes through, faith tends and keeps in hope, that a tiny sprout could actually bring forth a giant pumpkin, that a weak simple-minded child could actually bring intense glory to God.
Of course there are weeds. In one sense, all of life is weeds, whether we’re fruitful or not, we can be assured of weeds, some of our own making, many not. When I first took inventory of the plot of The Big Garden, it was frightening: stinging nettles, thistles, creeping charlie, you name it. It was the curse on steroids. I came out of out of there with scrapes, thorns, bug bites and sweat many a time (not to mention the friend who helped us). Now there are shoots of sweet corn emerging.
The Lord takes the most ugly, painful places and transforms them into the kind of usefulness that will benefit ten or one hundred fold. He did it with His Son and by grace, His Son will do it through you, to the praise of His glory.