In John 15, Jesus refers to himself as the vine and he describes God the Father as the gardener who tends his plants, pruning and caring for them so that they are fruitful. God tends to us as branches grafted into Christ Jesus, nourishing us to spiritual fruitfulness. He is the gardener that guides our life and sets the example for us to follow.
That gardener comes to mind as I tend to my household garden and consider my role. When we first bought our house, we had no idea what gardening would take. We spent money on plants and seeds and hours on planting and weeding. Our zucchini died of fungus, our beans refused to grow, our tomatoes were too tiny and our questions were endless. It fell short of our first visions of what the garden could be.
We had dreamed big. When we first walked through the property that would become our home, the backyard, surrounded by a low, white fence, included a garden that we could not wait to plant. For our neighborhood, our garden is considered huge. Many in our suburbs have small garden plots, but the area set aside in our backyard can easily grow enough produce for us to eat all summer with leftovers to freeze for the colder months, if the gardener is wise.
We hung in there, and slowly we learned (and we are still learning) how to care for this garden well. Now, come spring, we head out as a family to prepare the ground for the season ahead. Side by side, we yank up unwanted plants and turn over the soil that will nourish our seedlings. We have learned much about companion planting, and we plant our vegetables near other plants they enjoy. We consider the needs of each small crop, and we watch the light levels and watering requirements carefully. And we dream. We dream about the meals we will enjoy, the fresh fruits and veggies we will pull from our own yard that will help feed our family for many months to come.
And yes, there is some complaining. The work can be hard and tedious. Sometimes, our children do not want to spend time planning and planting and plowing, but my husband and I know that this work is good and that sitting side by side in the dirt, waiting for something to grow, is time well spent with those we love so well.
And every year, I remember that what we are doing outside together is much like the work we do as parents. This growing of a garden in a suburban plot is not very different from raising children in this space. Children grow and flourish when they are nurtured and tended.
We have to watch and water, pouring into our little ones the truth and light they need to grow faithful, healthy, strong. As parents, our words and our lessons are placed deeply inside, and we trust that God will bring to fruition the wonder that we hoped we would see.
We also have to weed and prune, helping our children to see what must be pulled out of their lives while nurturing what God has planted within us. Being faithful to engage in discipline we care for those entrusted to us guiding them to live according to the design that God has laid out for them. Pruning is seldom appreciated in the moment--but in the harvest, the produce proves its value.
For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:10-11).
Gardeners cannot force growth, we can only create conditions to encourage growth. We nourish and weed and prune and protect, and then we have to take the time to pray and to dream. We must wait and watch to see that however we have cultivated, God will cause them to grow into the people that God needs them to be. When we are observant we can affirm good behavior and redirect wandering tendencies. A watchful eye tunes in to the emotions being experienced and cares for concerns with empathy. A faithful gardener is watchful and caring.
Every summer, we wonder at the first red tomato pulled from a vine in our garden. The fruit is fragrant and the color is deep. It is unlike anything we can buy in a store and totally worth the wait. My prayers for my children are similar to my dreams for my garden. My desire is that my children grow in faith and become people that are blessed by God and a wonder to me. How I want to find that they are a fragrant offering to the Lord, roots deep, arms raised high in praise to the One who brought their lives to be.
Even as we weed, may this fruitful vision, this hope, this prayer, keep us committed to the garden we tend.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra