I am the farthest thing from a gardener that my father could imagine. He was born in 1898 and lived most of his life in rural Kentucky and moved to Northern Indiana when I was just 2 years old. He did not farm but he was a farmer at heart who loved gardening “ tilling the soil with a push cultivator, planting seeds, weeding and watering, and finally harvesting. We always had a huge garden and it required a lot of time and work in the hot sun. I confess that I did not wait patiently and ate some of produce before it was really mature. Tomatoes off the vine were so delicious.
Gardening may seem a very different offering spiritual direction and personal growth coaching, leading Contemplative Paths or Transformational Enneagram workshops, however, there’s a lot more similarities that might at first meet the eye. Just like I wanted a magic harvest to quickly enjoy without the hard-work and patient waiting, most of us secretly hope there is a magic fix for our most life challenges. We want to use an unhealthy spiritual fix to microwave transformations that require the slow-cooking of healthy spirituality to avoid creating bigger challenges for ourselves.
Let me share a way to distinguish between â€œUnhealthy and Healthy Spirituality:
Unhealthy Spirituality is any spiritual teaching that suggests there is some practice, some level of faith or belief that, if we can attain it, we will be exempt from the challenges of life, free of disappointments and hard times.
Healthy Spirituality instructs, equips and prepares to face the challenges of life with bold confidence and knowing we are invincibly precious at the core of our being created in the image of our loving Father. My advice: “Stop treating life like it is a problem to be solved and began experiencing it as an adventure to be lived and enjoyed. Yes, the illusion of finding a “magic shortcut” is very tempting. However, it sets us up for deep disappointment when we realize that the results we really want take hard work.
Jesus is commonly portrayed as using agricultural illustrations in parables to deliver his wisdom teaching. Parables have power to challenge and change the listener’s worldview we unquestioningly accept as true. However, we can be trapped in our world-views as if in a trance. Parables have the power to sneak up and bypass our defenses and lead us to be open to truths we have been unable to see or hear because of our fixed worldview. The parables are unique in that they tell us what we thought was true is not, but don’t spell out what is true. They can be disturbing because they leave us figuring out what we really believe is true.
In meditating on Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, I was confronted with a new question. The parable suggests how Jesus’ good news struggles to take root in our lives. the good news is like seed sown on four types of soil with different results. Seed sown on a hard-packed walking path fails to take root. Seed sown on rocky ground without water and soil fails to take root. Then, good seed sown among weeds is choked out and withers. Only the seed sown on ‘good soil’ bears fruit for harvest.
My new question was: “So, what transforms hard, rocky and weed infested fields into good soil for planting?”
Obviously, it takes hard labor digging up and carrying off the rocks, cutting down and burning the weeds as well as plowing the soil to break it up. My older brothers and sisters frequently rehearse working hard with our father on the farm in Kentucky before I was born. They dug up tons of rocks, chopped weeds and used a mule-drawn plow to break up the soil. They may exaggerate a bit because I was born after that phase of family life.
What if, rather than thinking about the four types of soil as describing four different types of people into whom seed is sown, we consider them as four distinct stages in our own spiritual journey?
I can recall times where seed was sown in my life by caring people but my “soil” was too hard and rocky for it to take root. I can also remember people who sowed seeds of love, compassion and grace that were planted in my soil but, as Jesus illustrates, it was a time in my life the weeds of “worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choked them out. Then, I wondered: “What was the key to the process of being transformed from hard, rocky and weed choked soil to good soil?”
Reflecting on my journey and many others whom I have accompanied, the paradoxical answer was “Suffering.” Isn’t that an encouraging thought!
Richard Rohr has observed that “Wisdom is the product of great suffering and great loving and great loving will always include great suffering.” Now, isn’t that just really good news!
As you look back across to your life, have you really gained much wisdom when life was easy or has it come when you faced life’s challenges? We certainly wish wisdom came easy. We hear people suggesting that it “should be easy” and that they have a sure fired quick-fix and shortcut to arriving at the results we want. We wish and sometimes try it but my experience is that it does not work well at all.
It is amazing to me how we would be disappointed if we paid to see a movie or bought a novel about someone’s life that turned out absolutely perfect – they had no suffering to go through at all. “Where’s the drama? Where’s the inspiration?” We would want our money back if the main characters did not face incredible odds and there was no crisis to overcome. It’s fascinating that want that to be true in movies and novels but we want to avoid having to face those kinds of challenges in our own life? How would that really work for us? What would be celebrate? What would bring us real joy? How would the soil of our hearts be weeded, tilled and prepared to become fertile soil to grow the seeds of grace planted if we we exempt from life’s challenges?
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. – James 1:2-4 MESSAGE