Step by Step

After helping his parents plant a garden a child becomes eager to see the garden grow. In his developing mind it is hard to comprehend how food to be eaten will grow from these tiny bits of green vegetation and seeds just planted, but his trust in his parents is strong. The next morning he eagerly wanders out to look at the garden,  and he sees the same pile of dirt that was there the day before. The boy remembers vaguely his parents saying that it takes time for a garden to grow so he decides to check again after lunch. At lunchtime he meets disappointment again. The next morning the boy, not as eager as the day before, but still with some excitement goes out to check the garden and finds the same pile of dirt. After that he stops paying attention and gets swept away in other enjoyable activities of summer. Then one day the boy’s mother brings in a bowl of lettuce, and the next day a zucchini. When he sees the zucchini the boy jumps out of his chair and runs out to see the garden, and he cannot believe his eyes. What was tiny green plants and some seeds is now a robust garden; there are tomatoes growing, an abundance of lettuce, and it looks like 3 more zucchinis will be ready to be picked tomorrow.

The growth of one’s inner-life, what the Bible calls fruit of the Spirit, is like a vegetable garden. Some plants grow quickly, and the benefits from these plants can be reaped shortly after being planted, while others take much longer, but the wait is worthwhile when harvest comes. All people have some virtues that seem to naturally grow quickly and early in one’s life and other virtues take a lifetime to develop. Sadly, often the garden of our inner-life is neglected. This neglect leads to weeds growing everywhere choking out the growth of both those virtues that are slow to grow and, eventually, those virtues that came naturally and easily. Fortunately using this image of a garden also gives a clear path to growth of the inner-life. Understanding weeds, the harvest, and nutrition leads to human growth for all, but before those can be considered the most crucial factor of time must be examined.

Just as naive as it was for the boy to expect the garden to grow overnight, so it is foolish to think that one can develop a strong inner-life in a short period of time. Many get frustrated with the Bible because it seems to be full of impossible commands. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “love your enemies,” “do not be afraid” are just a few of these unattainable commands. Three truths are forgotten in relation to these types of commands in the Bible. 1. You do not keep these commands to earn God’s love. 2. God loves you enough to help you become able to do these commands. 3. It takes time to become a person who can do these commands. To deal with the weeds, to prepare for the harvest, and to receive good nutrition, they all take time. Spending little to no time attending to one’s soul is like failing to do anything with the pile of dirt in your backyard; the good will be starved out and die, while what is unwanted will overrun the pile and create large problems.

Weeds have the frustrating ability to grow almost anywhere despite the conditions around them. These weeds left unchecked can grow to control a garden. For people common weeds are anger, fear, anxiety, and boredom. The ideal with any weed is to get to the root, but for some the weeds may be so out of control that it is difficult to know where to begin. If this is you the best thing you can do is to get some professional help. Having the courage to admit you need that kind of help is the bravest thing you can do, and don’t let yourself or anybody else convince you otherwise. Everyone has weeds and they will come back and so one must be diligent in knowing one’s trouble spots.

It may seem too obvious to say, but vegetables are grown in a garden to be eaten. This is good for the body and the bank account. The harvest of the inner life is to be a wellspring of life for the whole world. Time must be spent developing the virtues in one’s life that contribute to the good of the world. If that is neglected weeds will choke out those virtues and lead to ruin. In the world today it is popular to focus on becoming “successful” to the neglect of becoming good. This leads to the current cultural reality where we see story after story of “successful” people having their lives ruined due to poor character.

The garden must receive proper nutrition to grow. For the inner-life the big question is what are you listening to? What is the ongoing message in your head? Does it tell you that you are never good enough? That you must do better, that you should be doing this, and I can’t believe you did (or didn’t) do that? Or is it the voice of God speaking over you that you are his beloved child in whom he is well pleased?

The gardening season always begins with an intensive time of work and then the rest of the season is mainly minor maintenance with a bit of intensive work to put the garden to bed for the winter. For the soul there also should be a rhythm of intense work and steady easy work. Maybe as the summer begins you will use it as a time to do some inventory of the soul. What are your weeds? What type of harvest do you desire to produce? What are you feeding your soul with? Just like a well-planted garden if this is done well, with an appropriate amount of continual work, the yield will be a great harvest.