There’s a small square of earth behind our house that belongs to us. Which is strange, because it was here a long time before we were and will be here a long time after we’re gone. But there’s a deed in an office somewhere that has our names on it, so the ground is ours. And with that ground comes the responsibility to care for it—a responsibility that didn’t come from an office, but from Heaven.
We do our best. And when I say “we”, I really mean my wife, Jessica. She’s the one who does most of the caring and tending and planting. I made the raised beds around the edges of the garden, but she’s the one that filled them with roses and blueberries, mint and strawberries, pineapple sage and climbing jasmine and passion flowers. This year, she brought home packets of seeds for dahlias, zinnias, and cornflowers as well, because she wants to have flowers to cut for our dinner table throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. She sowed the seeds in trays of compost and found the perfect spot inside our glass door where our seedlings could have ideal conditions: plenty of sun (by Irish standards), warmth inside the house, protection from cold and storms and slugs, and regular watering. We babied our little baby plants, and we were delighted to see them grow, and grow fast. In fact they grew so fast that their stems became long and thin and too weak to hold up their own new leaves. One by one me they began to fall over. What went wrong? How could our seedlings be so weak when we protected them from every difficulty and obstacle? What more could we do for them?
When we asked a gardener friend, he told us that the absence of difficulty was not the solution to their problem. It was the problem. The trouble for our seedlings—the trouble that made them weak—was that they had no trouble. Without at least some exposure to the elements, they would never grow strong.
It feels backwards, but our friend was right. Now that we’ve been putting the seedlings outside in the wind and the weather during the day, they are sturdier, stronger, and a lot healthier. They aren’t falling over anymore. Of course, there is a limit—they are still weak and fragile and can’t handle the cold air at night yet—but we see now that the way to make them stronger is to let them face some adversity, not to keep them completely free from it. Soon, we will plant them in the garden. When we do, they need to be strong enough to handle the weather. The more troubles they are able to face and overcome now, the more prepared they will be to face and overcome the troubles that will come then.
There have been times when our children have had to deal with various kinds of relational difficulties, and all I wanted to do was fix it for them as quickly as possible by any means necessary. And fixing it is good, of course, but it’s not the only good. There’s another good that grows best in the process of learning to stand up for yourself and others, discovering the security that depends on God instead of people, and learning what it means to overcome evil with good. If I always try to step in right away with a fix for every problem my children face (as if that were even possible), how would they grow? Yes, I need to be mindful of their limits, but sometimes the way to expand those limits is to give them support and encouragement—and the chance to face a storm.
Isn’t that what God, our Heavenly Father, does for his children? Jesus said in John 15 that God is a gardener to us, actively pruning the branches he loves so that they will bear even more fruit. In other words, his priority for his people is to help us grow firm and strong, into the people he made us to be. As Isaiah said,
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.” – Isaiah 61:3
God knows how to grow saplings into oaks. In this world, for plants and for people, that process involves some adversity. Yes, he knows our limits—and he knows what it will take to expand them. He knows what he is growing. He is carefully tending his seedlings towards an end result that we cannot even imagine. Who could imagine a mature oak, just by looking at a sapling?
I don’t know what is coming in my life in the days ahead. I’m sure some of it will be hard. Some of it already is. But when I look at our seedlings, and remember my Gardener, I don’t mind so much if it rains.