The Helplessness of Gardening

Published July 20, 2015 by

Blue sky, comfortable temperatures, not many bugs, and a flower bed that needs work. Not a bad assignment. At least, that’s what I hear. I do not have a green thumb. Really. At all.


But that’s no reason not to enjoy the season of the earth waking up and starting to grow again. In fact, I like the feel of dirt on my hands. Even though all I can really do is follow very simple instructions like, “pull everything out of that bed,” as I did last week on my husband’s advice. All-or-nothing gardening, that’s what I’m good at.


Two weeks ago, at our church’s Spring Cleanup Day, I told a friend, “When I look at a flower bed that needs weeding, I feel like a person who doesn’t know how to read, looking at a book. I don’t have the faintest idea what should stay or what should go.” My friend felt sorry for me, that no one had ever explained plants to me. But I grew up in Kansas, with a yard so hot that no one in their right mind was outside planting flowers – at least at my house.


But all that said, I still like the growing season. I like it because no matter how good or bad you are at gardening, you can only do some things, but you can’t make it grow. The growth is not about you. The Bible says, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:7) God is at work, triggering unseen processes that science describes with fancy words and formulas.


Are we like those plants? No one can make a person grow in a certain direction. You can plant “ballerina” seeds, but your little girl might still grow up to be a drummer. You can tell a college student what to major in, but you can’t make them love that vocation. I imagine that lots of parents look at their kids and say, “that’s not what I thought I planted!” So let’s make sure we do our part with delight. God gives the growth. The point is, we can’t take credit for growing a person. God does that.


The same is true of people in our circles of influence. We may want someone to change, or to believe as we do, or to care about themselves and others, but we can’t make them. We can offer ourselves, our friendship, our caring. But they might not receive it. They might remain the same. Or they might become even more stridently opposed to us.


So what difference does the planting and watering make, if God just does what he wants? Our influence matters. Most people can look over their lives and point to people who helped them grow. Helped them. But didn’t make them. So how can we be faithful gardeners, invested in the lives of our kids and our friends?


The main act of faith is to pray. Have you ever asked people to pray for you? Have you ever been entrusted with praying for someone? There is nothing like knowing that people are holding you up in prayer. And there is nothing so amazing as having prayers answered.


God’s multiple-choice options in answering prayers are: 1)Yes; 2) No; or 3) Wait.  But we forget that last one. We feel that if the answer isn’t “yes,” then either the prayer “didn’t work,” or it was a “no.” I think that “wait” is actually a very frequent answer. God is the master-gardener, watching for the right moment to bring the exact growth needed. And our impatience will not hinder or hurry God.


After you plant your garden this year, stand over it and pray. Pray that God will bring the growth. And let that garden remind you of yourself and others’ lives you are invested in. And pray for yourself and them, too. Pray that God would grow each one in the direction of God’s will, and in God’s time. And then wait.

(This blog post originally ran as a column in the Mining Journal newspaper 6/13/15)

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