When quarantine started in North Carolina, I quickly found that I needed an outlet, a way to relieve stress and spend my time in a more productive, yet relaxing, way. I had always wanted to try gardening, but as I lived in Colorado for 23 years, the rocky soil and cold weather were not conducive to any successful growing. As a child, I had appeased my gardening dreams by burying dry pinto beans from our pantry in a small pot of soil in our kitchen. They sprouted rather quickly, lasted several weeks, then withered away, but it was fun to watch them grow so fast and tend to them. I did not wish to dig into our backyard, so after digging around on Pinterest for ideas, I purchased lumber and building supplies and my brother and dad built me a a 2 foot by 6 foot garden box, which was filled with mounds of fresh, pre-fertilized soil designed just for vegetables and flowers. Those ten bags of Miracle Gro soil needed to be put to use, so I was off to the garden store, and returned with a pink and white variegated petunia plant, a purple petunia plant, white vincas, two marigold plants, rosemary, and basil. After transplanting all of these to my garden box, two full-sized tomato plants, two cherry tomato plants, and a green bell pepper plant were meticulously placed next to the garden box where they would receive full sunshine daily and water was generously poured on each plant with my new red watering can. Then I watched and waited eagerly and expectantly. Surely any moment my flowers would bloom, fruit would be begin to appear on my vegetable plants, and my herbs would have an abundant harvest for my cooking pleasures!
Time went by and to my disappointment, it seemed that the plants were growing at the same speed that paint dries, but I suppose at least they were growing. My petunias seemed to be doing well and my vincas slowly blossomed, but to my dismay, my favorite flowers that I had selected, the sunny-colored marigolds, seems to be wilting away a little bit each day. The leaves turned a blackish color and the blossoms were shriveled and droopy. I jumped on Google to try to unearth a remedy for my poor flowers, but came up empty handed. I quickly realized that maybe I wasn't cut out for this gardening business, and perhaps should have picked an easier quarantine hobby. I contacted a friend of mine who is experienced in the subject of gardening and asked for his thoughts and help. He told me that he didn't know much about marigolds, but he thought that I needed to occasionally take flowers off the marigold plant so that it would keep blooming. Incredulously, I thought, "Take flowers off my already horrid looking plant?! He can't be serious. Why would I remove some of the few blooms I had left?" I decided I had nothing much to lose anyways, and cringed as I snipped off the saddest looking blooms and black leaves with a pair of scissors, leaving only a few blossoms on the plant. I gave it a dose of water, almost as an apology for taking away its blooms and foliage, and left it alone for several days. When I went back a couple of days later, I noticed all of sudden that my marigold plant had blossomed beautifully! I felt silly for doubting my friend's advice, and it reminded me how God prunes our lives so that we may bear more fruit for His glory. Pruning is the act of cutting away branches or parts of the plant that may be diseased, overgrown, or dead parts of a plant. A plant does not realize it has diseased parts, and it still channels nutrients to these parts of the plant, which then takes away nutrients from the healthy parts of the plant and the fruit. Just as we at times are blinded by parts of our life that are causing "spiritual disease" such as pride, selfishness, jealousy, dishonesty, disrespect, and other sins, He takes away things we think are good in our lives, but are in reality causing these sins. It's painful and uncomfortable, but the end goal is that we bear more godly "fruit" for Christ as He prunes our lives so we can be more like Him, and we blossom in ways that we could never imagine. What are some areas of your life that might be interfering with making you more like Christ that need pruning?
"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." ~ John 15:2 (ESV)
As I learned more about gardening and tended carefully to my plants, I found that sunshine and water were two of the most important things needed for them to flourish. Though I frequently watered my plants, added fertilizer to the soil, and positioned them in the yard for optimal sunshine, I discovered that they thrived best when doused with a downpour of rain. Each plant grew abundantly, new fruits appeared, and flower buds opened their bright petals. I began to eagerly anticipate storms and rain as I found there was nothing better than rainwater for my plants growth. Just like vegetation flourishes best in the rains, so we as Christians often garner the most spiritual and character growth during the storms of life. I've experienced many stormy times already during life such as loss of dear friends and family members through death or relationship struggles, numerous health challenges, financial difficulties, moving across the country, loneliness, and shattered dreams. Yet looking back, it was during these times that I most experienced closeness to Christ as I depended more heavily on Him during these times, much more it seems than the good times in life. Christ taught me on a deeper level of His unfailing love, unfading hope, patience, trust in Him, His grace, faith, and dependency on Him as a firm foundation, a steady rock when all else in life falls away. When the rains of life come, do you find yourself growing closer to Christ or falling further away?
"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." ~ Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)
The garden and outdoors are most favorable for a place of prayer in two ways for me. First, it is away from people and distractions. Second, it is where I am most surrounded by God's creation, which compels me to a heart of worship and gratitude as I reflect on the beauty God has provided for us and the grandeur of everything He has made. Christ set an example by choosing outdoor, secluded locations for His most dire prayers to His Father such as the silent garden of Gethsemane, "And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And He said to his disciples,'Sit here while I pray.'" - Mark 14:32 (ESV) the mountainside, "In these days He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to God." - Luke 6:12 (ESV) or other desolate places away from crowds and distractions, "And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed." - Mark 1:35 (ESV). He likewise urges us to find a silent place to pray, in order that our act of prayer may not be flaunted in front of others as the hypocrites in the Bible did. I think this instruction is also given so that we are not distracted and can focus fully on Christ and our intimate communication with Him. I am far too distracted in my bedroom with books, my pets, music, and the tempting comforts of my bed to pray fully focused on God, so I have chosen to use my garden or anywhere outdoors as my preferred prayer location. Where do you go to pray to have the most intimate communication with Jesus?
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." ~ Matthew 6:6 (ESV)
When you delve into Scripture, you can quickly find that the Bible is overflowing with lessons about agriculture, gardening, and lessons that can be learned from working in the garden. I look forward to learning more from the Lord and spending more intimate time with Him as I tend to some of the plants that He so carefully crafted with His spoken word when he formed and filled the earth with good things.
"And God said, 'Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.' And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good." ~ Genesis 1:11-12 (ESV)