Last year I planted a garden. I had never planted a garden before, and may never again. Only time will tell. But last spring I felt compelled to dig in the earth; I felt a deep desire to grow things. And every day I tended the garden. I weeded it, I watered it, and I hoped for growth; for fruit. As spring rolled around this year, I just didn’t feel it the same way. When asked if I would plant again I responded with the words, “I wouldn’t mind.” And then I just didn’t.
What had happened to that compulsion—that desire—to make things grow? Where had it been my whole life before last year…and where has it gone since? I’m not one of those people, the ones with green thumbs who constantly grow things. That’s not really ever been me. So what happened? Why so compelled for a time?
My wife recently pointed out to me that last year I was in a very tough place. Experiencing disappointment, loss of identity, dealing with some painful things, and generally in one of those spiritual valleys. She said to me, “I think you just needed to see something grow. You just needed to create something and see it grow, see it succeed.”
We need to see things grow. It’s how we are made.
I think it comes from the fact that we carry the image of the Creator. So we desire to create. We want to make things. We need to see things grow. For some people that is expressed in art. They create with paint and brush, or pen and paper; some with clay, wood or other materials. And this is easy to identify. Of course they are creating! They made something.
But mothers also make things grow: children. And fathers do as well, regardless of how insistent our society is that fathers are buffoons who just mess things up (that’s another topic for another day). And anyone who invests in others makes things grow as well. When we share love, share Christ, share assistance. When anyone receives from us anything given in the manner Jesus intended, there is growth—spiritual, people growth.
Now, let’s be clear. We don’t actually make people grow. God does that. And Paul makes sure we know that.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
We plant seeds. We water. God does the actual growing.
It’s just like with my garden. People would ask, “Did you grow this yourself?” and the natural reaction was, “Yep, right out back.”
It wasn’t an attempt to take credit from God, or to say that literally I made these little seeds grow out of the ground and produce fruit. It meant I watered, I planted, I tended the garden. I had a hand in the growing.
Paul goes on to say that people are the garden—the field where we plant and water.
The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:9-10
Last year I planted a garden in my backyard. Not because I’m good at gardening. I’m not. But I was made to see things grow. It’s just that sometimes the risk of watering and planting within people is too painful. Sometimes past relationships and experiences have convinced us to just hide from the world and swear off people because the hurt they seem to always bring no longer feels worth it. And sometimes just dealing with our own junk gets to be too much and it seems we’ll never see growth in ourselves again. In all these times, I was still made to create, to plant, to water, to make things grow.
And as relational image bearers of our Creator people are the ultimate garden. Seeing growth in ourselves and those around us, for all the risk and disappointment, is still the ultimate calling on us.
Sometimes we just need to dig our hands into the physical dirt and plant seeds to be reminded that it’s worth it. Sometimes watching it grow helps us remember, I don’t actually make anything grow, but I long to plant and water and watch them grow. And people–myself included–are worth the effort, the risk, the pain and disappointment that often comes. None of that matters as much as the growing.