Planting season is nearly over. 

My garden is crowded with new life: creeping cucumber vines and delicate yellow squash blossoms. Proud red and purple petunias. Gangly sunflower shoots. Tiny, jewel-like cherry tomatoes. The sweetness of lavender and the piny scent of rosemary and the heavy perfume of patchouli and the sunshiny bite of mint. 

It’s also crowded with … other stuff. In a few places, the unwanted grass threatens to take over. I can’t weed fast enough. One whole corner of my kitchen garden floods when it rains, leaving a murky puddle behind. I need to build up the soil, but I just haven’t been able to tend to it yet. My hibiscus plants are drowning, and I fear for my yellow onions as well. My sweet corn’s problems are still undetermined. It germinates, it grows healthily to about four inches tall, and then it dies. Repeatedly. 

Gardening is an emotional rollercoaster. Triumph, heartbreak, frustration, wonder and awe, monotony and tender loving care, all in the same small squares of dirt. You recognize that not all of what’s in that garden is under your control. You must say your prayers and hope for the best. But you must also work hard at what you do, knowing that neglect and laziness and ignorance will get you nowhere. 

A week or two ago, I read the testimony of a man named Phil Will. I’m not sure if that’s his real name or just his online pseudonym. Mr. Will is a Black man whose professional specialties are law and theology. Will wrote at length over the murder of George Floyd, his anguish as a black dad, his concerns over the ins and out of various legal precepts, and finally, his religious convictions as a Christian. He talked about the need for the people of God to move against racism with “holy indignation” and seek “godly justice.” And how to do that?

“It does not mean that you must to and dismantle whole structures of injustice in one fell swoop. But it does mean that in whatever garden God has given you to tend, tend it well.” 

As a gardener, I was struck. 

“Whatever garden God has given you to tend, tend it well.”

Our gardens are a reflection of our lives. The plants we choose to tend say something about our priorities and our personalities. The care we give to our space says the same. Most of us are out there working the ground the best way we know how, and only the most depraved among us would injure our own work or the work of another. But very few of us have a patch that approaches anything close to perfection. We have beautiful blossoming growth everywhere. We have tiny, vibrant fruits here and there of which we are incredibly proud. 

But the season is long and we are nowhere near harvest. The spirit is willing, but the gardener is weak. So we get tired and burned out. We get frustrated and throw down the hoe and walk away from the work. We put off the maintenance we know we should do. Or we get complacent and self-satisfied with what we’ve already done. Then one day we go out to inspect our plants, and they are overtaken with weeds. Or crawling with bugs. Or burned by the sun. Or drowned. 

We cannot achieve perfection. Some of this work is beyond our control, and we must pray for God’s grace. But most of us have a long way to go before we become masters at the craft of holy indignation and godly justice. Go inward, and look at your garden. Where are you letting the weeds spring up? Where does the soil in which your life grows need amendment? Where are you parched, or overcrowded, or neglectful? 

“Whatever garden God has given you to tend, tend it well.” 

Planting season is nearly over. But the work itself goes on and on. 

(1) comment

Noli Irritare Leonem

Thank you for an excellent reminder.

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