The garden

One of my friends has been creating a beautiful garden in curved landscaping beds around her house, and drawing encouragement from spiritual lessons in weeding, pruning, cultivating, and the like.

My garden, with its half-eaten broccoli and brussels sprouts, inadequately thinned salad greens, beets, and carrots, whole swaths unweeded or mulched, quite a few things not yet planted, bales of straw still sitting around, and half the fence not yet pinned down, has other spiritual lessons.

Sure, we could talk about failure, and laziness, and how you reap what you sow and therefore don’t get as much quality produce from a haphazard gardening effort.

And that lesson would be especially appropriate if we were poor and / or lived in a culture where feeding our family depended on a productive home garden.

Since we are not that poor, and don’t live in such a culture, should we act as if we did anyway, and take the failure lesson to heart? Push on to garden perfectly in addition to meeting all life’s other obligations?

Or can we accept our own context, and consider the lesson of “good enough,” and of “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”?

We can, perhaps, enjoy the salad we had tonight, scrounged from that overgrown lettuce bed, supplemented by the tiniest carrots from a three-minute thinning session, and by baby peas, without mourning overmuch for the tatsoi and mizuna that bolted before being picked much, and with only a cursory glance at the beet bed, waiting its turn to be thinned.

We can be grateful that there are a few leaves on a few of the broccoli and brussels sprouts plants, and hope for a fall crop, too.

We can admire the red clover and how huge it’s getting, or the equally impressive size of other weeds less pleasant than clover.

We can rue the fifteen new fly bites and think how many more we can avoid by not staying in the garden to work some more.

We can adore God who will not snuff out a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed, and who doesn’t look down at me with scorn for my un-ant-like garden work ethic.

This “good enough” thing is tricky; for those of us with a highly developed sense of obligation, perfectionism, and massive capacity for guilt and shame, it is easy to focus on Scriptures that do urge hard work and attention to detail and exquisite standards. It is interesting that there are also those smoldering wick and bruised reed verses — certain messages, certain exhortations, are for certain times of life, times of day, certain temperaments and personalities, and so on.

Notice Jesus’ summary of the law — to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself — does not explicitly spell out a work ethic or elevate “do perfect work” verses over “smoldering wick” verses. Love can be fully itself, fully mindful, fully whole-hearted, fully present, in any situation, whether focused on a work, on breathing in and out, on connecting, on playing, etc.


ETA: We could also turn the whole thing around and talk about the immense value of rest, reflection, contemplation, and the like. And the dangers of overwork and anxiety and stress.


4 thoughts on “The garden

  1. I go back and forth with these ideas as I garden too. My veggie beds are messy, weedy, and not as productive as they could be. Yet I have learned to find the tenacity and beauty of weeds pretty awe inspiring, and react with childlike delight every time I harvest anything rather than beating myself up over how much more I could harvest. It’s all about attitude. Mine is a work in progress, like my garden.

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