I’m using this post as a public service announcement to gardeners everywhere. Every year, by mid-March we see a problem of epidemic proportions. It’s called “The Gardening Itch.” Imagine this scenario for a moment: You’ve been dreaming and planning your garden for weeks. You know what you’re going to plant, where it will be planted, and have narrowed down the week you will start based on your gardening zone. Then out of nowhere, you’re sidelined by a beautiful 78°F day. In some cases, several beautiful days within the same week! Suddenly, confusion kicks in and you’re wanting to plant anything and everything… NOW! If this “Itch” takes hold, the outcome could be catastrophic.
Ok, maybe this is a little over the top but my gardening friends are smiling because they understand what I’m talking about. Not too long ago we had several days of temperatures reaching close to 80°F (that’s 26.6667°C for my Canadian friends). I spent that lazy Sunday afternoon reading in my hammock while watching the kids run around in shorts and t-shirts. It was glorious! So glorious that I found myself venturing into the garden just to put my fingers in the soil. It wasn’t long before Brenda and I began texting in our excitement. I so badly wanted to get into the shed and get started. But in that moment, common sense kicked. Let’s just say that I’ve learned my lesson about jumping ahead of the season.
It all happened my second year of gardening. We had several gorgeous days in a row and, by the first weekend of April, I couldn’t wait. “Let’s make our spring trip to the greenhouse!” My husband looked at me cautiously; “Are you sure you want to go now?” We talked about how it was a little early but I was set on getting a few herbs to get started. I was convinced it would be fine. The trip wasn’t as fruitful as I had wanted. The greenhouse didn’t have as much to choose from, but despite the limited selection, I broke out into the happy dance when I ran across a spearmint plant. This was the sign I was looking for; summer was coming! For those who have come to our home in the summers, you understand how much we love our spearmint lemonade. It’s become a “Kuhn-home” staple. We serve it at cookouts, family gatherings, bible studies, and sleepovers. For me, there’s nothing like having an ice cold glass of it when coming in from the heat after weeding. The kids and their friends always fill their cups to the brim before running outside to play. Heaven forbid the pitcher ever runs dry. If you dare take the last cup, you will find yourself on the receiving end of some nasty glares and the sound of unhappy children; “Moooooom! They took the last bit. It’s goooooone! Can you make more?” Of course, a new pitcher is met with hugs and kisses!
When I came home from the greenhouse that day, I walked in like a conquering hero, showing her prize. I made our first pitcher of spearmint lemonade before carefully planting it in the front planter. I might have gone so far as to whisper encouragement to it with hopes of exponential growth. My joys, however, were short lived. Two days later, an unexpected frost hit and killed my precious new plant.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I learned a lot that year about timing. It wasn’t the only plant that suffered due to my eagerness to get started. Even as I started writing this, those brief 80°F days were met with several rounds of snow in the last 10 days. This morning, I walked out to the garden to see my strawberry plants covered in frost. There’s a reason why the Farmer’s Almanac releases an annual reports on optimal planting seasons by zone for every fruit and vegetable plant. Expert gardeners understand that individual plants carry innate requirements in order for them to thrive. For example, tomato and pepper plants are a summer crop. Their root systems need warmer soil to establish a foundation for growth. If you plant them too early, you run the risk of shocking and stunting the plants with lower soil and overnight temperatures. Stunted plants often deal with sparse flowering. Keep in mind, if you want to actually grow vegetables, you need your plants to flower!
Whether we’re waiting to plant in our garden or simply waiting in life, the path of patience can be difficult. “Waiting on the Lord,” seems too contrary in our world. We don’t wait for anything. We seem grossly preoccupied with speed. If we can’t pay for it, send it, or download it now, we lose interest, or our cool. We’ve become masters at trying to cram as much as we can (if not more) into a limited amount of time and space. It’s exhausting to experience and exhausting to watch. Inevitably, our pursuits to accomplish more have left our souls bankrupt.
Not long ago, I read a story that resonated with me on this topic:
“Some adventurers got together and planned an African safari. They saved their money, bought tickets, mapped out their safari, and hired an African guide and porters. They arose early in the morning to begin their trek deep into the jungle. They pressed hard the first day. When the sun went down, they pitched their tents and set up camp for the night. Early the next morning, the adventurers were ready to go again, eager with anticipation to get farther into the jungle and see more wild animals. They noticed that the porters, though, would not move. In frustration, one of the adventurers went and asked the guide, ‘What’s the problem?’ The guide informed him that they had gone too fast the first day, and that they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies,” (Magrey R. deVega, Songs for the Waiting: Devotions Inspired by the Hymns of Advent 2016.)
Have you ever experienced or watched someone suffer because they rushed ahead? Recently, a friend of mine shared her story of pain after forcing doors of opportunity open in the music industry. She shared about how the fruit of self-promotion was damaging: “Any door you have to work to open, you have to work even harder to keep open.” She talked about the disaster and stress that comes when we choose not to wait. I can identify with that too. Over the years, it’s been painful to watch friends run headfirst into promotions and career changes without counting the cost to their family or themselves. It doesn’t stop there. How many of us have listened to stories of couples who can’t seem to make it work because they jumped into marriages before they were ready? Even in my own friendships, there are moments I wish I had waited on God before attempting to “fix” things. I’ve learned that forcing people to talk before they’re ready is incredibly unkind. And of course there’s the frequent problems associated purchasing homes, toys, and trips without a plan or money to pay for it. I have to laugh as I think about our own stories of impulsivity. There’s still an overpriced set of pots and pans sitting in our cabinet that someone talked us into before we were married. Note to newlyweds everywhere: Those “free” trips they promise you along with your purchase – liars.
So how do we move away from this drivenness to a posture of waiting? How do we apply the scriptures that command us to, “wait on the Lord?” I wish I could tell you that there was an easy button for learning patience. The truth is, there’s not. Patience is not acquired; it’s grown. It is a “Fruit of the Spirit” that grows on the tree of a heart that walks with God. I love how the Message translation prefaces the list of fruits: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard…” (Gal 5:22). If you take time to cultivate it, you will grow it. That being said, some of the greatest tools for cultivating an ability to wait are found in what Dallas Willard calls the spiritual disciplines of abstinence; primarily silence (stillness and quiet) and solitude (being alone with God). Our early church fathers understood the need for these disciplines in order to grow in the faith. Henri Nouwen famously wrote about it when he said, “without solitude it is almost impossible to live a spiritual life.”
I realize the moment I use the word “Spiritual Disciplines,” I’ve triggered the anti-performance button in some people. Believe me when I tell you, I understand. I have struggled throughout my spiritual life to escape striving. But God’s invitation to me this past year is to see the heart behind spiritual disciplines. In the past, I saw discipline as punishment in my attempts to appease an angry God. If I could just improve my behavior or manage my sin, He would love me. But God never intended that spiritual disciplines be used as hoops to jump through in order to get access to Him. The Greek word for discipline means “to teach.” That’s much different from punishment. When it comes to engaging His presence, God’s heart is for us to use disciplines like silence and solitude to slow down and recognize our need for life with Him. He’s calling us back to relationship with Him! What a change in perspective.
Let me end with this. Scripture encourages us repetitively to, “Wait on the Lord.” I’ve learned that when scripture repeats something, we need to pay attention. I’m not suggesting that controlling our “itches” will be revolved simply by practicing silence and solitude, but I do believe they will foster a deeper connection to the One whose pace of life will bring lasting nourishment to our souls.
A few things to consider:
- How has my pace of life impacted my journey with God? How have the demands of my life helped or hindered my relationship with Christ?
- In what ways is God asking me to practice the discipline of pulling away to seek Him?
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence… activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence… It kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
– Thomas Merton