Short thoughts about meeting God outside
My wife and I recently purchased our first home in the beautiful college town of San Marcos. When we first looked at our now home, Alli was drawn to the open kitchen, formal dining room, and large master suite while I had my eye on the planting bed on top of a slope along the fence line that got beautiful morning sun and cool afternoon shade. While Alli was ready to set “roots” in our first place, I was more excited to plant roots in our soon-to-be perfect-for-a-garden backyard. Ever since I first read Thoreau, Emerson and Wendell Berry in my later college years, I longed to grow a garden, invest long term in some soil, and to literally eat the work of my own hands. While I had dabbled in gardening post-college, 2 seasons in a raised bed at the ELI house, a work-trade CSA on a local farm, learning composting from a couple Texas State students, owning a home would be my first real shot at learning the craft of growing food. And it turns out gardening is also helpful for learning scripture.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
While physically tilling and keeping a garden isn’t necessary to understanding this verse, it certainly breathes life into it. Doing the work of preparing ground at the proper time, planning and planting with the next season (or two) in mind, attentive weeding and plant care, regular watering, mulching, expectantly waiting for growth, harvesting in due time, pruning and removing plants helps to understand what it looks like to till and keep. And this becomes super helpful as we go about our lives cultivating relationships, setting roots in a community, growing ministries, and caring for the earth.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
I am currently in the midst of fall planting which is a mad dash of ground preparation, transplanting, and putting seeds in the ground. The smallness of a seed really hits home when cutting through mulch with mud caked hands trying to grab one seed at a time and plant it in its proper spot. But now as it rains, I get to watch those tiny pieces of frustration turn into delicious lettuce, carrots, and parsnips (come over in a couple months and feast!). Experiencing the process of patiently waiting for frustratingly small to start turning into immense growth and radical transformation in my backyard helps equip me as a missioner tasked with reaching a new campus.
“For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf withers,
and like a garden without water.”
“And you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.”
Isaiah 1:30//Isaiah 58:11
At the beginning of June, I got to spend a few days leading kayaking trips with some soon-to-be college students at Camp Capers followed by a weekend as a camper at Mustang Island Family Camp. It was an amazingly fun week at these camps, but it also was a week away from watering my garden as Central Texas heated up into the high 90’s. I certainly learned what a garden without water looks like and it’s not pretty.
My garden recently benefited from the addition of a soaker hose. Soaker hoses, especially when placed under mulch, slowly let water drip out, sending moisture deeper into the ground and thus allowing roots to grow deeper making the plant hardier. They also reduce water usage by drastically cutting evaporation and runoff compared to a garden hose with a spray attachment. This leads to a better watered and all around healthier garden, which is a beautiful thing to behold (my writing is influenced by Tom Clancy).
Tangibly knowing what a garden with and without water is like brings a deeper understanding to the warning and promise in Isaiah and throughout scripture.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth”
1 Corinthians 3:6
This year, across all our campuses, we are studying 1 Corinthians (follow along on our Church United Podcast). As I was preparing to teach chapter 3 and I read this verse, a little smile crept across my face. There is something mystical, something beautiful about watching little green seedlings pop up from the soil they were planted in and watered a few days before. In the same way, seeing the kingdom of God breakthrough in a student’s life has this same awe-creating dynamic., and it’s even more amazing.
There is another important truth to this passage that gardening makes clear: God supplies the growth. I can only plant and water and mulch and fertilize and prune; I can’t force the plant to form new leaves or get taller or produce more fruit (I’ve tried). Gardening becomes a patience-forming and trust-building practice that does good things in our marriage, with our little dude, on mission for Jesus, while driving, when dealing with money, and for my friendships. Some people say “Trusting God with the little things makes it easier to trust God with the big things!” I think there is at least a 15% chance little things means gardening.
We learn in a whole bunch of ways; reading books, hearing a talk, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube, taking a class, asking a neighbor. But sometimes (often) all we need to do is go outside, dig a hole, put a seed in it, and watch it grow.
By Sam Regonini