Every spring I have ambitious plans for creating a beautiful haven in my back yard. I pour over magazines, dreaming of lush plants, tranquil water features, and sheer beauty spilling from every bed. I put on my gardening gloves and head out, ready to conquer the curse of thorns and thistles and bring beauty and order to my corner of creation.
I usually last about 4 hours before I give up.
Gardening is hard! This year we spent all of our time and gardening budget on removing poison ivy and hauling in a truckload of rich soil. None of this produced the magazine worthy garden of my dreams. Yet all of it was incredibly necessary. Gardening takes time, hard work, and patience. It requires me to commit to the long haul, to get my hands dirty, and to wear myself out investing in things no one else will see so that beauty can spring forth from a ground that is cursed. I struggle to live in the tension that exists between toil and fruition.
Digging in a Desolate Land
I am not alone in this struggle. In some of Israel’s hardest seasons, when their lives probably felt like a pile of dirt and poison ivy, God made his people a promise. He spoke of a day when, “their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more” (Jer. 31:12). To his people living in exile, who lived with uncertainty and unrest, God proclaimed, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden…I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which is desolate” (Ez. 36:35-36). God comforted his children in tumultuous times by reminding them that he is a gardener.
Like Israel, I too feel the fear that comes with uncertainty. I struggle to make sense of political and social unrest and I mourn the decay that comes from centuries of unrepentant sin. I look into my own heart and see unmet longings, sin, and despair. Even though I know that one day my life will look like the pages of those magazines—a lush and tranquil garden of the Lord—today it looks like poison ivy and a pile of dirt. I would give up, were it not for this thought: my God is a patient gardener. He will finish the work he has started. He will not abandon us in the dirt.
This knowledge about God brings me great comfort. It gives me eyes of faith to see him turning the soil of my heart to produce fertile ground. I see him getting his hands dirty in my life as he willingly enters into my struggles, doubts, and fears. I watch him plant seeds of faith, gently patting the soil to secure their place. He waters my heart with his word, his promises, and his own tears. He pulls the weeds that would strangle my faith and prunes the dead weight that will slow me down. This process feels painful at the moment, but I know it will produce a harvest of righteousness in me. He delights over the budding fruit that he sees and smiles over the bounty which is sure to come.
The Wise Gardener
Seeing God as a gardener brings me great hope. Places of pain that I thought were wasted, now become fallow ground that lies in wait upon the gardener. His care is intentional and his plan is wise. He is not wasteful. Not a seed that he plants will fail, even if I don’t see signs of growth. He completes what he starts. (Phil.1:6) He won’t waste my sorrow because my tears are precious to him. (Ps. 56:8) I can trust him, because this faithful gardener is also my Father, my Brother, and my Friend.
And I am not alone! He is intertwining the vines of my life into the lives of others, creating us into a community garden for his glory. The work he is doing in me, he is also doing in you. And who are we becoming? Isaiah 61 tells us: oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might display his beauty in us. (v. 3) This is redemption, my friend. There are places of pain in each of us that right now appear to be wasted, pointless, or even cruel. But when we bring this soil to the tender gardener, he turns that fallow ground into a garden. He grows us into strong oaks of righteousness to display his beauty and reflect his glory to a confused and hurting world. With nail scarred hands that know pain, he tends and prunes us. From this soil, he produces life.
In quarantine I learned to love gardening. Pulling weeds and turning soil became a place of worship for me. I was regularly reminded that God is at work in my life, even though I may not see the lush garden yet. It gave me hope to be reminded that our story began in a garden and will one day end in a city that houses the Tree of Life, with abundant fruit and leaves that heal. Our gardener God will see us through.
About the Author:
Abby Hutto is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Story Presbyterian Church in Westerville, Ohio. She also works for Parakaleo, a ministry that comes alongside women in ministry, as a group leader and trainer. Abby loves to study and teach God’s Word and delights in helping others experience and know their Heavenly Father better. Abby is married to Ken, and they have two children, Hannah (14) and Harry (13). They live in Westerville, Ohio. She is the author of God For Us: Discovering the Heart of the Father through the Life of the Son, (P&R Publishing). You can connect with Abby at www.godforusministries.com