This week, I loaned a tiller that I'm borrowing to a friend who had a dozen or so people waiting around to help him with a bunch of projects around his house. As you might have guessed, one of those projects was putting in a garden (tillers really are just such predictable unitaskers huh?) I know the people that lived there two residents prior and they had a large lovely garden behind their garage. As we began to discuss where he wanted it, this led us to a conversation about how long this plot had sat fallow. Our best guess was only three years.
This was fascinating. Three years earlier, the rich soil was completely stripped of the invasive weeds and grasses. It was well marked by towering tomato plants, sturdy root vegetables, and lazily creeping squash plants. The soil intentionally gave its energy and nutrients to the plants that the owners selected to place there in their tight little rows. It was free from freeloading dandelions, and crabgrass, nothing that bore no fruit was welcome in this 10'x20' plot, nor would it have been tolerated.
The garden had been worked loose by the previous residents, compost was added, weeds were methodically removed. Dirt was jammed under fingernails, blisters formed on the hands that were softened through a winter of unuse, sweat helped moisten the soil on the dry hot days, small nicks offered their droplets of blood, all in long pursuit of a garden which was well-prepared to bring forth the fruit its sowers knew the plants could provide.
If you've ever gardened you know that it takes a few years, to really get the garden good, for the soil to be supplemented with proper nutrients, and become a good soil for growing. It takes time to figure out the best layout to ensure appropriate sunlight and space for each plant and it is often a great amount of work, especially upfront.
What was fascinating about this is just how quickly their work was utterly erased from memory. As the required 5 men (and one woman in this case) stood around offering their advice on how and where to put in the garden, one could only see the faint frame of the former garden. Not because there was any difference in the density of the vegetation that had so aggressively reclaimed the plot, but because the "garden" was just a little bit lower than the surrounding lawn. The "garden grass" was indistinguishable from the "lawn grass". It was literally as if there had never before been a garden where I was sure there had been one. Nature had been busy, and radically effective in reclaiming its plot!
It would take them an hour or so to till up the space. It will take another bundle of hours to get the soil prepared, the plants in the ground, the water on, the weeds out, and the harvest in, but rest assured with appropriate commitment and knowledge this plot will be regained for the resident, it will slowly be snatched away again from nature. It's kind of like a little battle huh?
This is really the point of the blog. Dirt is cool, but not necessarily worth 40 minutes of a Saturday morning. This makes me think of the efforts we see in our own lives, and if we're lucky, our efforts in other's lives. Naturally, we will become a weed-bed of freeloading plants, none of which produce any fruit of any value to anyone, except perhaps ourselves but at the preclusion of others bearing their fruit. Dandelions left unchecked would conquer the planet. (if you want to check this theory on a smaller scale look at my front lawn). But they choke out other plants and the "fruit" they produce, is bitter and of hardly any value.
In order for the proper fruit to come forth with appropriate abundance, a great deal of work is required. (I've actually tried this so this is a real testimony.) If you run out of garden space you can't just put a few seeds in the lawn and expect them to grow; it doesn't work. If we want tasty fruit from our lives we must allow the Spirit to reclaim our nature. We must work hard at preparing the soil so that our seeds of faith can grow, so that the seedlings of the fruits of the spirit can become mature and fruit-bearing.
The final point is this. Just like we're not done working on our marriage at the wedding, we're not done caring for the garden when the seeds are in, we're not done working on the preparation of our spirits when we see an shadow of fruit. The garden described above was fully fruit-bearing, and fully matured. With just a few years without attention, it regressed all the way back to its former state of nature. Similarly, no matter how spiritually mature you are today, how far you've come or how secure you think you are, you aren't free from intentionality, and a need to be attentive to your garden. Our nature will always sneak back into control, weeds will always pop back up if we aren't vigilant in protecting that space.