Posted by: karanoel | September 28, 2019

Softened ground

When we moved into this home and I first attempted to plant a few things in the garden, it felt impossible. The dirt was so dry and compacted, it may as well have been rock. Well, not quite. With a shovel and pickaxe, along with splinters, blisters and sweat, I was able to make it down a couple of inches. But as I looked at the depth of the large pot sitting next to me and thought about the instructions for the hole to be twice as deep and wide as that dang pot, I wanted to sit down and cry. I also really, really wanted this rose bush, which had sparked such delight when I saw it at Home Depot, to be part of my yard.

IMG_6848I was reminded of a burnt-on, crusted-over mess of a pan I’d experienced days before and how impossible it was to clean… until I soaked it overnight and all that united-with-the-pan crustiness practically slid off. So I set down my shovel and pickaxe, filled that pitiful hole full of water and walked away. The next day, as if by magic, the shovel sank into the ground, allowing me to create a big enough hole (if not quite twice as deep and wide) to plant my beautiful rose.

Likewise, there are times when we really, really want to have some beautiful living thing planted in the soil of our lives – maybe, considering the depression that’s been harassing us, we could particularly use a large fruit tree of joy, or maybe after all the anxiety we’ve experienced, peace would release the most pleasing fragrance, or, with the way we keep turning to food for comfort, self-control is what we most want to see grow. But what happens when we try to get one of these worked into the ground and find the soil as impenetrable as the dirt in my yard? 

We have a couple options. The first is to pull out our tools and apply our best efforts. Yes, it will take focus and sweat and we will probably get some splinters in the process, but if we keep at it, we should be able to make some headway in our struggle, right? If we are impatient, it would follow that we need to work at becoming more patient. And if we don’t succeed, we assume we just didn’t try hard enough so we will double up our efforts and give it another go. While there may be some temporary success like the couple inch indent I made in the dirt, it will require constant (and very wearying) work to sustain and will never be able to go deep enough to create any lasting change. 

The second option is to recognize the futility of digging in rock-hard soil and, no matter how much we would like those beautiful things growing in our lives, resign ourselves to the acceptance of living without them. This might sound like, “I am just an anxious person.” “I have an addictive personality.” “Depression runs in my family, so I’m stuck with it.” “No one one could expect joy in a situation like this.” Or a million other ways we assume “it is what it is.” This line of thinking is not altogether bad because it rightly acknowledges our complete inability to change ourselves. But if our understanding stops there, we are left hopeless – like the cross without the resurrection; stuck in whatever brokenness we find ourselves, which is in no way reflective of the abundant life of Christ in us.

The last option, which I have found to be shockingly effortless and miraculously transformational, is to take a break from my efforts – even though they are striving toward something good – to soak my life in the Word of God. Not because it makes me feel spiritual or does God any favors or because I’m a Christian and I should, but because it is a softening agent that transforms the soil of my life so that what is detrimental can be removed and what is beneficial has room to grow. It is important to point something out here. There is nothing that we need to plant. It’s already been done. The moment we accepted Jesus, all the seeds of the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – were planted inside of us because He was planted inside of us and they naturally grow from Him. But, they are deep within and if they are surrounded by the hardened soil of unbelief, control, fear, self-reliance or any number of other things, those life-giving seeds will not be able to establish roots, break through the surface and grow to maturity (a process called sanctification).This is how Christians can be saved for eternity and loved relentlessly but still look the same as the rest of the world.

It is through time in the Word that we learn the mind of Christ, get in sync with His heartbeat, become quickened by His truth. To be transformed by it doesn’t require us to understand it all or even believe it all. We just need to spend time soaking our lives in it because the Word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) In other words, it (or, rather, He) does the work for us, requiring rest and intimacy instead of the back-breaking curse of striving that came from the fall. Then, in the ways He does ask us to partner, our efforts will become productive, like my shovel sinking into the soft ground.

A recent example is this revved up, almost anxious state I’ve been in lately. There are so many things I want to do and need to do and they all feel urgent, so I can’t seem to finish one task before starting in on another, all the while my mind is already three steps ahead, forcing me to look something up on my phone every 5 minutes or so before I forget. Not exactly a peaceful place to be living from. I can even feel a tenseness in my body. With my to-do list dominating my thoughts, I’ve skipped the devotions I used to delight in, figuring I’ll get to them when the work is done (which doesn’t happen because I’m spent by then and want to zone out). And since my writing comes out of times of quiet with the Lord, I’ve been skipping right by that too. Even playtime with Chase and connection with John gets robbed. So I’ve been productive in a sense, but not with what matters most. 

Since sometimes we can’t even choose God without His help, I asked Him to draw me back in; to give me a hunger for time with Him. And then I walked away and let His Spirit work. Before too long, I was picking up my Bible again and setting a timer to give me long enough to become still as I read the truth and let it work itself into my soul. Here is the crazy thing. Rest came. There were still things to do but nothing felt quite so urgent. Things that didn’t really matter started falling away and I found myself calmly attending to the things that did – without splinters, blisters and sweat. And then I got revved up again and condemnation came that I’d squandered the beautiful rest He’d given, but my sweet mom prayed for me and reminded me that He loves me, that He is doing the work and that I can rest in that. What a glorious truth that quieted my spirit and drew me right back in. Maybe it’s a bit like a caterpillar in a cocoon. We rest, tightly held in the quiet place, as we are transformed from lowly creatures who hug the earth to vibrantly winged ones who traverse the sky. Or, maybe more in line with this post, is that our humbled lives, through the washing of the water of the Word (Eph 5:26), become host to a garden of the sweetest fruit we’ve ever tasted and a testimony to God’s beauty and power.

fruit tree

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. John 6:63

Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. 1 Peter 1:23

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

If you have time, I highly encourage you to listen to this teaching by a couple of friends on this topic (you need to have/download Dropbox to listen). 

 


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