2 Corinthians 9:6-10
I grew up in Midwest farm country, where the farmer readily acknowledges there is only so much that can be controlled by human effort. Despite this fact, I witnessed firsthand the sweat, energy, and hope poured into the fields, and the immense delight when they produce fruit. Decades later, as I maintain a tiny strip of a garden next to my house, I am constantly reminded that producing a harvest is hard work, and no matter how much I put into it the end result is not entirely my doing. Yet the rewards of biting into a juicy tomato or crunching on a sweet pea pod are indescribable.
We are told today that God is the ultimate gardener, sowing widely, playfully, and freely across the breadth of the universe and laughing with joy when a harvest is produced. God invites us to be co-gardeners, anticipating a great harvest when we allow ourselves to be opened and grown while helping those around us to do the same. Unfortunately, the obstacles are no less great in this invitation to the garden of life than they were in the fields of the Midwest, and producing a harvest is no easier nor is it more assured.
In my own little garden, the obstacles include storms, insects, rabbits, and neighborhood children. Though I don’t want to admit it, sometimes the greatest obstacles in the garden of my life come from within me. In fact, as I struggle to continually be born from the seed God planted, and as I struggle to become seed for others, I am often my own worst enemy. For instance:
1. I sometimes get caught in a mindset of scarcity, as if there is not enough to go around and I’d better make sure I get my share. Can I trust the God of abundance to shower me with whatever I need? Can I live more simply, letting go of material possessions that I cling to like a security blanket? Can I give love freely, without holding back pieces of my heart to protect myself from hurt?
2. I sometimes get caught in a mindset of competitiveness, wanting to be recognized as the best.
Can I nurture an abundant community instead of seeking to secure my own position? Can I look first for how I can help someone else grow instead of letting them fall by the wayside if they cannot help me?
3. I sometimes get caught in a mindset of self-denigration, as if I need to be perfect or else I’m not good enough. Can I believe that lack of perfection is not failure? Do I know in my heart that complementing the gifts of others is a higher calling than individual achievement, and that the communal sharing of imperfect gifts can create a better overall garden? Will I allow myself to trust that when I am lacking in something, God gives what or who I need to fill the gap?
4. I sometimes get caught in a mindset of unrealistic expectations. As a finite person in this finite world, I cannot possibly grow or tend everything. How can I gain wisdom to discern the garden God intends for me to grow? Can I also remain open and flexible enough to adapt as God calls me to different plantings?
5. I sometimes get caught in a mindset of pain avoidance. Can I allow myself to be broken open by God, trusting that the pain will result in a worthwhile harvest? Can I die to my comfortable little shell, shed the barriers that enclose me, let go of all I think I own and all I think I am, risking everything to break through to the light? Am I willing to face the pruning shears, storms, and attacks from places known and unknown? Can I accept that sometimes I will be blown over or lose parts of my very self in the process of becoming who God created me to be?
God does not want us to sow or reap sparingly. I look over my list of self-imposed obstacles, and I realize I have a lot of work to do in order to produce the harvest God desires. I am reassured by the knowledge that God makes every grace abundant for me, and is not only cheering me on but is actively providing what I need. Neither God nor I totally control this venture, but together perhaps we can create a beautiful and fruitful garden nonetheless.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.