I am not a gardener and I have no idea how to be one.
I’ve never owned a plant, I don’t buy flowers and given a choice, I like my vegetables pre-washed and bagged. I have no doubt that I could kill a cactus simply by bringing it within a six feet radius of my aura.
So, the fact that I have a small plot of land that I am newly responsible for is daunting. I have been staring aimlessly at my new project without a single clue as to where I should start for a good six weeks. This is why reinforcements have been necessary and I enlisted the help of my brother’s neighbor who happens to be a gardener by choice.
Her first question, upon sight of my mess, was, “What do you want?”
I was already stumped, the question was too intense, and after staring blankly at her for a moment I said, “Uh, something pretty that won’t take a lot of maintenance.”
She rattled off ideas, finally landing on perennials, which is a term I don’t understand but they are, apparently, easy to take care of. My small plot of dirt is not yet hospitable for such plants, though. The dirt is rock hard, dry and overgrown with green growth I can’t name. The land must be cultivated first, filled with organic things to break down the soil and watered to make it moist. I have to pull out the plants by their roots and decide if they are healthy enough to re-plant or if they should just be thrown out into my trash.
But I do not want to do it. It is going to hurt my back for sure, I can’t differentiate a healthy plant from a dead one and I am going to sweat and stink. I bet, by the end of it all, I will still have to make dinner and I won’t like that either.
I’d be an awful potter too. There is no way I could look at a clump of slimy dirt and see something beautiful or even useful. I’d probably hate how dry it would make my hands and end up making tiny little mud pies that I could throw against a wall.
It is a good thing I am not God. I would take one look at humanity and declare it a lost cause that wasn’t worth the work.
God is different, though. He can see potential and he knows the way to make it manifest. He can see the rock-hard soil and manage a way to make it fertile. He can hold a lump of slimy clay and see beauty. I’m glad to be the soil and not the gardener or the clay and not the potter because God is so good at what he does. He is utterly competent.
Any beauty seen in me comes from the sweat, creativity and work of God. It is super painful work and I don’t like the process. Sometimes it feels like God is just stabbing holes into my heart when he is really irrigating and breaking down the hard walls I have that surround it. Or it seems he is throwing me on his potter’s wheel haphazardly for no good reason, but he is really making me malleable. Then, or course, there is the whole firing process which just seems like overkill, but what do I know?
I think it is easy for those of us in cross-cultural work or ministry in general to perceive ourselves as the cultivators. We are sent as a light into the darkness and we can forget that we are not the master shepherd, gardener or potter. We are, in fact, the sheep, the plant and the clay.
That may not be good news for you but it is good news for me. Because with my limited pruning skills I could do a lot of damage to people’s lives. It takes a creator God to see into the depths of a person, to read their stories and know their intimate needs and desires.
In John 15, Jesus makes it clear that our Father is the gardener and he prunes away all of the dead weight that will not bear fruit so that we CAN bear fruit. Christ declares us already clean because of the words he has spoken, this makes any pruning God deems necessary to be about wholeness and not purity. All we are to do is remain in Christ; to tarry, to hold, to endure, to sojourn with him. Any part of us that is found to be wandering, outside of Christ’s love, will be seen by our Father and cut off because of the damage it can do to our souls.
We are not called to be the pruners, we are not the ones who get to decide what should be hacked off of ourselves or others. We don’t get to judge what is dead weight. God does that. We are called to love each other as we remain imbedded in Christ.
After all, “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:7)
We may not be the ones who cultivate the soil and prune the leaves but we can be a tangible example of God’s love. We can be the voices that say, ‘I’ve been there, I know it feels like God is beating you up, that he is abandoning you. I know the grief and the disillusionment. But I also know that the work of God is a good work that heals us and I am here to listen and walk with you through the pain.’ In that we become an unstoppable force of brothers and sisters who can endure and remain in Christ while the Father does his intimate work of love.
Can you differentiate the pruning of the Father from your own voice and the voice of others? How is it different?