Through a friend on social media and an email from an online floral website, I was made aware that Wednesday, April 14th, was National Gardening Day. I appreciate gardeners: while walking around the block, I delight in the flower gardens that my neighbors maintain; while eating dinner at home, I enjoy fresh herbs that my youngest child cultivates; when shopping for produce, I respect the labors performed by local farmers. I am not, however, a gardener. I do not have a green thumb, an agricultural temperament, or a disciplined lifestyle conducive to successful gardening.
Yet, as a follower of Christ, I am actively gardening all the time. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he referenced the practices of planting and watering seeds. As Jesus taught through the use of parables, one of those oral illustrations was about preparing the gardening beds by removing boulders and briers. While comforting his followers, Jesus described the work of God in our hearts through the horticultural lens of grafting and pruning. Whether it is fostering growth in ourselves or in others, it seems that God desires all those who hear His voice to be active in gardening.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6
As I reflect upon the imagery of gardening throughout God’s word, I am inspired by a few thoughts.
- Gardening, particularly botanical gardening, develops an awareness of superfluous beauty. Flowers serve an important function in floral reproduction but are unnecessarily resplendent. We, too, within our processes of growth and increase, reflect the creative beauty of God’s limitless diversity.
- Gardening requires a commitment of time and toil. No seed, no matter how healthy, is productive overnight. Gardeners are patient, knowing that their efforts will likely bear fruit in time. And while they wait, they work – breaking up the hard soil, removing the underlying rocks, weeding out any interloping sprigs, building trellises, watering the blooms – so that the plants will reach their potential. All growth comes through endurance with intentional effort.
- Gardening involves discipline. I have had a number of plants in my life that died on my watch, all because I did not do the needful work consistently. These seedlings, and at least one bonsai tree, died from a lack of water or sunlight (or from an overcompensating abundance of water or sunlight) because I did not attend to the plants daily. We are (spiritually) fruitful because we do what is needful each new day.
- Gardening typically takes place in community. Families work together in the vegetable garden. Abutters appreciate the alstroemeria blooming next door. Gardening groups and botanical blogs have multiplied online through this pandemic, allowing hobbyists and horticulturalists alike to share their insights. The fields of faith, likewise, are best tended to through a team of godly gardeners.
I think I will pick up a few seeds and a flower box at the home improvement store. I want to give gardening another go to increase the splendor in my life and to have a daily reminder of the work going on in my soul. I will let you know what develops.
There is a ‘standing headline’ circulating through social and broadcast media: “Celebrating Thanksgiving to Be Quite Different This Year”. As a consequence of surging numbers of COVID-19 cases across the globe, authorities are recommending, at least in my area of the country, that our observances of Thanksgiving be limited to small – and preferably outdoor – gatherings, that our travel plans be curtailed or eliminated, and that our traditions take a hiatus. Under the circumstances, it seems to me that this is the most reasonable path to take, both for the sake of our loved ones and for the communities around us.
The requested modifications in celebrating this thoroughly North American holiday gives us an opportunity for beneficial correction. This year we will not have the chance to celebrate “Turkey Day” or “Friendsgiving” or “Football Day in America”. The Thanksgiving table may not, this year, look like the iconic Rockwell painting in its gastronomic bounty. The chairs may not, this time around, be filled with friends from work or church, or school recreating the warmth of community. The back yard or living room, this year, will not be shared by generations who enjoy tossing around the pigskin. This year we might only have the opportunity to give thanks – alone with the grantor of all good things or with those in our closest of circles.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Psalm 95:2
Earlier this month, for another purpose, I formulated my list of ‘thanks’. I have modified the entries slightly, hoping that my touchpoints might stimulate your thoughts toward thanks. Today, I am thankful for:
TIME – I give thanks to God for the gift of time. I would have never planned to spend so much time at home and share so many little moments with my family. I cannot fully express the gratitude I feel to God for the ability to unexpectedly be together for much of the last year.
HEALTH – I give thanks to God for the gift of health. I consider myself fortunate that I have the availability of protective equipment and world-class care. God has truly blessed me with the accessibility of masks and wipes, medications and medical professionals that enable me to resist much of the ailments that in other places or other times would have diminished my quality of life.
AMUSEMENT – I give thanks to God for the gift of laughter. As dire as things are, there is an abundance of resources ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous that make me laugh. I give thanks to God for giggling babies, on-line videos, satirical skits, and dog sweaters, along with another million amusing moments.
NETWORKS – I give thanks to God for the gift of connectedness. I have been awed by the creative ways God has inspired others to engage with the community around them – Zoom, Duo, Facetime, YouTube, balcony concerts, calls, letters – and I am grateful to God for enabling me to participate in things I thought would be impossible to attend last Thanksgiving.
KINDNESS – I give thanks to God for the gift of love for one another. Through signs, parades, and deliveries, we have cared for one another like no other time I can recollect. This reminds me of the grace of God each time I see these expressions. Thank you, Jesus.
SALVATION – I give thanks to God for the gift of forgiveness. Countless times over the past year, as I reflect on the above-stated gifts of God, I have messed up: failing to appreciate what I have, ignoring the opportunities granted me, selfishly pouting for the things I am denied, or blatantly disregarding the Lord’s will and word. I am so thankful to God that my sins are forgiven and that I am a new creation, saved by the free gift of His grace.
For what will you be thanks giving?
Let us all agree that we will get together a year from now for “Turkey Day” and “Friendsgiving” and “Football Day in America”. But this year, in light of all we have been through, and continue to go through, let us all give thanks.
By the time you read this, summer will have arrived for my family. The younger boys will (finally) be done with school and our summer plans will have begun. These plans include Calvary’s Splash Canyon Vacation Bible School, many of the Free Fun Friday events funded through The Highland Street Foundation, visits to Nantasket beach, and getting ice cream at Sully’s on Castle Island. We will also be taking a road trip to visit friends and family along the East Coast, spending time in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington DC. Finally, our summer will be filled with late mornings, long walks, and plenty of summer fare (steamers, corn on the cob, watermelon, hamburgers, potato salad). Sadly, before we know it, it will be September 6 and school will begin again.
Summer vacation will be just ten weeks (sixty-nine days to be exact) for children enrolled in Boston’s public school system, which includes my school-aged boys; ten weeks of unstructured play, ten weeks of daytime television, ten weeks without homework or studies. This well might be my middle son’s last unencumbered summer vacation, as we are prayerfully anticipating his graduation from High School this time next year, and at that time he may be too old to hang out with the family. My wife and I will have a number more summers with our youngest, but he, too, is getting older and may not want to visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum or sit in the sand with mom and dad. I feel that we must seize this opportunity to spend this extended time together as a family before it is too late.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (NIV)
I am asking the Lord to teach me, enabling me to gain wisdom, as I number the next sixty-nine days. I am numbering eight days of vacation: sixty-one days; five days of VBS: fifty-six days; nine other Sundays: forty-seven days. Help me, Lord, to spend some part of these next forty-seven days together with my family. Help me, Lord, to make a memory every day this summer with my wife and with my children; actually, help me, Lord, to do this beyond the summer – on day seventy and day eighty and day eight hundred, if God should grant it possible.
I wonder: what memory could we make today with a loved one, or what recollection can we plant for another day in our intervening hours with a friend? Truth be told, we are not guaranteed tomorrow, let alone a whole summer vacation: all we have is now. Some of the things I put off until another day may be lost altogether as preferences change and people mature. Will you join me as I carpe æstatem (which is Latin for ‘seize the summer’)? Perhaps that means consuming a pint of whole-belly clams at The Clam Box or spending the night under the stars at a state park. Whatever it means for you, do it; don’t wait for a better day or a warmer night. Summer memories await… carpe æstatem!
There is a church down the street with the following on its lawn sign: “GODISNOWHERE”. The point of the sign is to reveal a person’s perspective – does the reader see “God is nowhere” or “God is now here”? Clever. But the sign also serves as a prime example for the value of space. There is meaning in strings of letters and there is meaning in the breaks: legend and leg end (one involves a great feat and other is great feet), justice and just ice (ask for each at the donut shop and you will get two very different things), menswear and men swear (it may refer to a blue shirt or a blue streak) or conspiracy and cons piracy (descriptions of a nefarious plot and the actions of a thieving ship of prisoners). Space contributes to meaning.
Pauses are impactful. Watch any competition television show and you will experience the power of the pause: Ryan Seacrest stating on American Idol that “the winner…will be revealed when we come back” or Tom Bergeron on Dancing with the Stars looking into the camera and saying “the couple leaving tonight’s competition…(a camera pans over the contestants for 30 seconds)…[insert names here]”. We all can recall an occasion when we included a pregnant pause – for effect, in remorse, to increase suspense – to take a breath to add weight to what needed to be said. Space contributes to importance.
Unfortunately, most of us rush our words and our conversations suffer. We abhor silence. We seek to remedy the awkward pause with something, anything to fill the void. We have lost our appreciation for space, for pause, for silence. We have stopped taking the time to listen. We have ceased the practice of seeking God’s help in appropriating just the right phrase. We have replaced relational interactions with information transfers, expressing less of our feelings and more of the facts. We tweet and text, ignoring punctuation and eliminating the full stop from the period or the subtle shift from the comma. Space contributes to emotion.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
The root word for the Old Testament practice of meditation relates to the biological function of digestion. We have a similar English word: rumination. We ‘chew on’ ideas, we ‘digest’ materials. In a real sense we break down the thoughts, sights and sounds of life into their basic nutritional components and absorb them, using them for our benefit and the benefit of others. We would be better communicators if we allowed time for the inner processes to come to a completion before we uttered some of the empty outward expressions our conversations contain.
Allow yourself the space to build meaning, emphasize importance and express emotion. Perhaps we can, in our own way, incorporate the wisdom of C.S. Lewis, who said,
“A pipe gives a wise man time to think and a fool something to stick in his mouth.”
We all can benefit from a little time to think and then utter just the right expression.
I am a product of my environment: I am impatient. I am not sure if it started with the remote control, the automatic drip coffee maker, the microwave oven or the cell phone, but I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with waiting. Fortunately, technology enables me to no longer waste my time in lines at the bank (there’s an app which makes my deposits for me and ATMs at every corner), in lines at the ‘video store’ (there’s On Demand™, Netflix© and DVRs to remedy that inconvenience), or lines at Fotomat (since digital cameras allow you to see, crop and print your pictures in an instant. Waiting is quickly becoming an old-fashioned idea, like a house call from a doctor or handwritten letter from a friend.
Instant gratification is the ideal. Bookstores have been shuttered because we can read electronic copies of almost anything on our phones, tablets and laptops. Texts and social media postings have become the preferred method of communication and we can know almost immediately get a response or a ‘like’. Even the food we eat – 30 minute meals at home and fast casual cuisine at restaurants – shouldn’t typically take long to prepare or consume. We are a people who suffer from road rage when in traffic and buffering suffering when on-line. Most of us hate to wait.
The trouble with this aspect of our culture is that God uses waiting as a tool of our maturity. Throughout the pages of the Bible are accounts of individuals who were required to wait:
- Abraham was given a promise from God that he and Sarah would have a nation of offspring. He waited twenty five years before he held the fulfillment of the promise, Isaac.
- Joseph was imprisoned on false charges, trusting that God would deliver him from his oppressors. He waited seventeen years before he was released.
- Moses ran from God’s plan and people, escaping to the land of Jethro. He waited forty years before God spoke again and renewed his calling to deliver the Israelites.
- Zerubbabel began rebuilding the temple before opposition overwhelmed the work. He waited eighteen years before he was able to resume and finished reconstruction.
Patrick Morley, in his book How God Makes Men, talks about ‘Bible Time’ – a construct based on 2 Peter 3:8 which states that ‘with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ According to Morley, ‘Bible Time’ is elastic; ten minutes in heaven compares to ten years on earth and two thousand years in heaven are like two days on earth. Instant gratification is a convention of our human mind when we assume our time table and not God’s. Impatience is an aspect of our human nature where we assume we know how long something ought to last. Waiting is a gift from the Spirit enabling us to grow to become all that God desires.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14
For those of us who are waiting for God to act on our behalf, allow me to give you a tool which may help – Wait for God to change your situation or provide your relief tomorrow and one day He will.