Cultivate Faith in the Garden

One long-ago summer, when my now-grown daughters were only four and five years old, I gave them several packets of garden seeds.  They excitedly raked a spot in the flower beds in front of our tiny log cabin.  The girls scored three or four foot rows, into which they densely planted lettuce, radishes, carrots and spinach.  They then marked their rows with the empty seed packets pulled over sticks.

The next morning, my daughters quickly dressed, climbed down the ladder from their sleeping loft, and ran outside to inspect their garden.  “Nothing came up!”  said the eldest, bending over the rows in alarm.  I laughed then, as I do still, at their childish expectation of instant results.  But yet, I wonder how much more patient than they I really am.

Ten days ago, I planted four varieties of tomatoes and two varieties of peppers in egg-cartons and placed them on my kitchen windowsill.  I didn’t have my grow lights and heat lamps set up yet, so the seed flats sat there for about a week.  During that time, we had constant sleet and downpouring rain.  Everytime I moistened the soil, I felt the cold air and gray light seeping through the windows.  I’m afraid the seeds lethargically refused to lift their heads to those cloudy skies.

About three or four days ago, I finally got the grow lights and heat lamps set up and set the seed flats under them.  The heat warmed the soil nicely, but I wondered if I had procrastinated too long in supplying the warmth needed for germination.  I feared that the seeds had already rotted in the cold, damp conditions.

I also remembered, with a pang of guilt, that I had absentmindedly allowed the soil to dry out a few times, which can be fatal to delicate sprouting seeds.  To make matters worse, several varieties of the seeds were two to three years old, which can lower seed viability.  The doubts were piling up in my mind.  I began to toy with the idea of abandoning the whole project, and to plan on buying tomato and pepper plants this year.  Oh me of little faith.

Still, having played this game before, I exercised what faith remained.  I diligently moistened the soil several times a day, and turned the heat lamps on in the mornings and off at nights.  Sometimes the heat lamps would unexpectedly dry the soil out, and I would be sure I had dehydrated the poor seeds beyond hope.  I also had to pick off several stinkbugs, who had found their way with unerring instinct to the pots and waited for some tender green thing to emerge.  Perhaps they had already devoured the seeds.

Still no sign.  At the moment of greatest doubt, I dug out a tomato seed and nicked it with my fingernail, so I could look for a living embryo inside.  I squeezed the seed, and a tiny white sprout slipped out of the seed coat.  Sacrificing a pepper seed in the same way, with the same results, I gained enough reassurance to return to my vigil.

Finally, two days ago, Iwent in to tend the seed flats, and found three tomato seedlings proudly sporting their first set of leaves.  By afternoon, three more seedlings were curled under their seed coats, as they heroically heaved them off so they could emerge.  At evening more were responding to the heat lamps’ message of spring warmth, and today, yet more are standing upright in their pots like tiny titans.

Once, when I was a young woman, an old man told me that the greatest act of faith is planting a garden.  Seeing my dubious expression, he explained. “It’s a long time between planting and harvesting.  Many mishaps take place along the way.  Late frosts nip the plants, deer or rabbits invade the garden, insects descend, the year may be unseasonably windy or rainy.  The list goes on.  The faithful gardener must, all the while, persist in weeding, pruning, cultivating, fertilizing, and all of the many tasks necessary to ensure a good harvest. all with no guarantee of a good crop.  If economic times are hard, the gardener must sometimes exercise faith in the presence of hunger, and uncertainty about the future.  If she gives up, the harvest will be scanty or nonexistant.  Planting a garden is an act that vests one’s interest in the outcome, and is by its nature, an act of faith.”

Having verified this man’s statement by experience, I think we can even say that growing a garden is an object lesson that illustrates the faith we need in any difficult undertaking, whether that is pursuing a degree, starting a business, or raising a family.

And since faith is a gift from God, I know I would never perservere without looking to Eden’s Creator.  Many times, as I have planted in adverse conditions, in harsh northern lattitudes, and in high elevations, I have prayed that God would bless the work of my hands.  Even as I struggled with doubts, and persisted in the face of frost and blight, I have praised Him for giving me the increase.  This is why I can say that, unless God grows the garden, the gardener plants in vain.

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