Recently I turned over the soil in our garden, pulling out the large weeds, and found a piece of glass. I immediately snatched it up, lest one our children run over it with bare feet, as they do here in South Africa.
Spring has arrived in the Southern Hemisphere, and so I was preparing our garden for planting. This soil – to which we have lovingly added our compost and carefully tended, in our feeble attempts to make it more suitable for plant growth – seems to grow glass, my husband recently pointed out.
Just the other day, I walked out to the garden to check on the progress of my sprouting seeds, looking with pride at what was growing. I bent down to pull a weed, and sure enough, there was another piece of glass. I picked it up, trying to figure out where in the world that could have come from, having spent so much time lately in this soil.
Anyone who is successful at gardening or farming will tell you the importance of the soil quality. It must be tended, plowed, cared for, rested, to produce a plentiful harvest.
Jesus himself acknowledges the importance of soil quality – the soil of our hearts. In the parable of the sower, he talks of seeds sown along the path, among rocks, among thorns, and of those that fell among good soil. What were the results? Wildly different, based upon the soil in which the seeds were sown. In the end, the seed sown in an honest and good heart is the one which produces fruit:
“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
In his book Heartfelt Discipline, Clay Clarkson writes, “This parable is not about good seed but about good soil… the seed is always good because it’s the gospel message, but the soil of human hearts varies greatly.” Clarkson is writing about the role of godly parents in helping to cultivate the soil of their children’s hearts, preparing for the seed of the gospel to take root by training in honesty and goodness. And while this has been a profound help in my parenting, it’s also been a profound help as I consider the soil of my own heart.
A large part of cultivating good soil is tending to what’s already there. But another aspect of cultivating a wholesome soil is removing what does not belong – in the case of my garden, glass, some sticks, some random trash that seems to have blown in. I can add as much compost as I want, tend my soil with great loving care, but if I don’t remove that which is detrimental to the growth of my seeds, then what good will it do? Additionally, good soil takes tending to year after year; it does no good to cultivate it well one year and neglect it for the next five.
This year has been one, for me, where the depths of my heart have been revealed. And let me be honest: it wasn’t all pretty. Maybe because of a worldwide crisis, one where I was forced to remain in my home with only my family for months on end. Maybe because crises tend to bring out the best, or the worst, in people. Maybe because most of my best laid plans were quickly and systematically derailed. Maybe because I have deeply missed my community, my family, my normal.
At any rate, I can have a few different reactions to the ugliness that was revealed in my heart – I can run and hide behind another season of Friends, behind picture books on the couch with my kids, behind IG stories, behind busyness as our schedules start to fill up again. Or, I can with courage face the deep-rooted sins that have cropped up in a heart that I thought was better than that, and seek to sort them out with God and with my husband. Asking the question, “Am I holding the gospel fast in an honest and good heart?” is a challenging one for sure, one that takes courage.
It is clear to nearly everyone that nothing we had planned to do this year has worked out like we thought. And yet I can’t help but wonder – what is God doing? In my heart? In the hearts of my children? In your heart? Darrell Bock writes of this parable, “A plant does not sprout forth overnight, nor does the harvest of the heart.”
Maybe…just maybe, this year is one of rooting out the sin and welcoming the good in our hearts, a hard kind of work that cannot be done well in the midst of a busy life without much white space. Maybe a lot of the work we have been doing – and God in us is constantly doing – is the deep, inner work, sorting the depths of our hearts before we jump back into fuller lives and ministries. And this work of tending the soil of hearts to hold fast the gospel in a good and honest heart is essential in order for a harvest to come.
Do we have the courage to face it?
What has God been cultivating in your heart this year?