In a series of blog posts, several of us will be exploring the question of why a community garden makes good sense for a church. For many of us, the reasons for a community garden are self-evident. But whether or not we need persuasion, we’ll find the reasons are even more extensive than we may have realized. In today’s post, Ministry Associate Ty Whitman looks at the virtue of patience as part of gardening and the life of faith
The Feeling of Birth Pangs
As a member of this church that lacks the ability to keep a single plant in the house alive, let alone the ability to tend to a full garden, I struggle to write to you concerning how a garden makes good, practical sense for a church beyond the obvious reasons of evangelism and service. Ways we can serve our community through the giving of food, and professing Christ as Lord whilst we do so. Yet, as a non-gardener, I ponder what God may be able to teach us through the physical act of gardening.
God often calls us out of our comfort zones, into spaces where success seems unlikely without God guiding us through every step of the way. We can recall Peter being called out onto the water by Jesus, but for the power of the Messiah, Peter falls immediately. However, as the story goes, Peter takes steps ON THE WATER! What faith Peter must have had to be able to make such a profound step outside of the boat. Now, God calling us into the act of trying to garden together is not quite as severe as being called to walk on water, but it certainly requires a faith that is willing to endure when the plants just aren’t growing in the ways we hoped. I can imagine that every good gardener has had that moment when they planted a seed, and it just didn’t grow. They watered it, tended to it, ensured they followed all the necessary steps, gave it sufficient nutrients in the soil, but… nothing. No sprout, just dirt. Or of course the moment that many of us have felt before, where we see the sprout, get overly excited, and then it withers and dies. To many, this may cause a desire to quit, but thank goodness some don’t – otherwise we’d be stuck with very few, good looking, vegetables and flowers.
Gardening requires patience. Just listening to David and Stephanie Sweeney – the two members of our church spearheading this ministry – talk about timing, and how we really won’t see much “fruit” until next year, has floored me. It’s clear this will require patience. Patience I too often lack, patience I think we all too often lack.
I’ve recently moved into a new home, with a yard and everything. I arrived and immediately noticed that the yard was, well, dead. Yellow and brown everywhere, with very little green. So, being just like my dad in being obsessed with wanting a well kept front lawn, I began watering it. Morning and night, I took the hose – because as a group of guys in our mid-20’s we don’t own a sprinkler – and would stand out there for a solid 20 minutes to water it. It’s been three weeks, and well, it’s still dead. I’ve used turf builder, watched far too many YouTube videos on how to make it green, and for some reason, it still remains yellow and brown. I’m impatient, and really don’t like the fact that this lawn isn’t responding in the way I was hoping. It wasn’t until today when our trusty Building and Grounds Elder, Bob Jensen, made the comment, “that lawn isn’t going to be better this year. It’s done, until next year,” did I realize where I was going wrong. Straight and to the point, Bob, without saying as much, was telling me to be patient. The grass will be greener next year, I’m just going to HAVE to wait.
Eugene Peterson, in the Message, paraphrases Paul’s words in Romans 8:22-25 in this way:
“All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”
The longer we wait, the larger we become and the more joyful our expectancy. What a beautiful phrase. Though, not a literal translation, I believe Peterson has fully grasped Paul’s conversation here around the creation groaning, as if it were in childbirth. Groaning, waiting, for our full deliverance and to be wholly connected with our Lord, God. Waiting for the moment the things of this earth are made perfect.
Think for a moment, about the 9 months a woman carries her child. Such a beautiful time, isn’t it? Full of wonder and joy as this human being, the mother and father’s own creation, grows before their very eyes. The excitement of the baby moving and kicking is elating. However, every mother will tell you that being pregnant isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Their feet hurt often, they experience morning sickness, which really tends to happen more than just in the morning. They experience emotions that makes them feel as if they are a different person than before. Pregnancy comes with pains – not to mention the culmination of that pregnancy in labor. There are also moments of nothingness. Where the baby isn’t moving, and it almost feels as if it weren’t there at all. The whole 9 months is filled with different sensations and feelings, good, bad and neutral. There are certainly moments where the mother just groans, wanting the baby to arrive already. But the longer the expecting parents wait, the more joyful their expectancy. And when they finally get the chance to hold their beautiful creation, it’ll all have been worth it.
So, too, is it with our lives, and with our garden. In life we will certainly experience times of pain, suffering, hardship – as it is with the garden, our plants may die, something may get stolen, maybe our cucumbers will be eaten by the beavers down by our dam. We will groan, wanting our Lord to return and remove all Evil from us and from the world – and with our garden we will groan, wanting our garden to produce better fruit, and wishing that those dang beavers would just leave us alone.
We will, most definitely, experience times in life where it feels as if God isn’t near, nothing good and nothing bad is happening and we feel empty – as with our garden, there will be a season where nothing grows at all. We will groan, wanting our Messiah to come and rescue us from the nothingness – and we will doubt, wondering if our garden is being successful or if it is even worth doing anymore.
The waiting does not diminish us. Why? Because we know our Lord is victorious over evil, and we can confidently proclaim that. Because we know that Christ creates beauty out of nothing. Because, God Almighty, brings us moments where we feel joy, gladness, and goodness reigns – we, too, can know our garden will produce something, and it will be good.
It’s in the waiting, patiently waiting, as a mother does for her child, that we are made larger. If God can teach us anything in our humble church garden, it’s this. Knowing fully who our God is and what He can and will do, we can wait with joyful expectancy. So, let’s garden. Knowing full well it will take time, love and care. Let’s garden, and may it teach us the power of waiting.