Over the last four years that I’ve been in seminary, I’ve heard one thing over and over again, “I don’t know how you do it all.” I’m a wife, a mother to four beautiful children, a pastor, and up until now, I’ve been a student – but I think I’ll always be a student in some way. It has been a very busy season of life, but when people say to me, “How do you do it all?” I always reply, “I don’t.” There are a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do, and I have not done in the last four years. For instance, I have not cleaned my house, I have not baked cookies, I have not supervised my kids’ field trips – sometimes I’ve even forgotten to send the forms in. Sometimes I have not had the ability to read what I wanted to read – no fiction for me the last few years. I’ve not planted any flowers in our yard, and it’s gotten to the point now that my kids tease me mercilessly about what a terrible gardener I am.
Once when I was younger and more naïve, I tried to be a gardener. We were living in Pincher Creek, Alberta surrounded by beautiful branches and vegetable gardens the size of this church, and I wanted to be like that. I wanted to grow my own food and be like the homesteaders of old. I read, and I researched, and I made adorable little garden maps, and I convinced my husband Al to rototill a portion of our yard, so we added fertilizer and I planted all my vegetable seeds in beautiful straight rows. I was very proud of myself. I should’ve taken a picture of that plot of dirt because it was never going to look like that again. The time went by, and the weeds started to grow faster than the plants, and the sun was hot. The little seedlings needed to be watered every single day; and there were bugs and mosquitoes and thistles out there. And I just got kind of tired of it, it wasn’t as fun as drawing the adorable little maps. I let the weeds take over, I stopped watering every day, and even though I felt terribly guilty about it, I just couldn’t make myself do it anymore.
We got a few peas and carrots out of it, but I essentially gave up. And by that September, we had to mow that garden just to get rid of all the weeds. It’s been a bit of a sore spot and a running joke in our family ever since. Everyone knows, I can’t keep plants alive. I’ve had to admit that all I’m able to do is throw a cup of water on potted plant every now and then, and even that might be pushing it. If a plant needs more attention than that, then I’m sorry – but it’s doomed.
When my daughter in was in kindergarten, she was sad that she couldn’t have a plant at home, because her mom would kill it. So, I bought her a cactus as a peace offering, and it died.
Last summer, we moved to White Rock. Around Christmas time, we started renting a house that has a big garden in the front yard, full of all kinds of perennials – at least I assume they’re perennials, though some of them are probably weeds and I’m sure my neighbours know which ones. And this Spring, slowly but surely, things started blossoming, the biggest more beautiful blooms that I have ever seen. Week after week, new things were opening up; crocuses, tulips, camellias, azaleas, poppies, pink and red and purple and yellow and orange. And I did absolutely nothing to produce to any of it. I just got to watch in awe as someone else’s years of tending that garden came to fruition.
It made me realize that my experience in gardening is a loving picture of what sometimes happens in Christian ministry. We’re trying to cultivate people and they can take a whole lot of attention – more than we’re willing to give sometimes, if we’re honest. But every now and then, when we’ve done absolutely nothing – all the sudden we’re blessed with the mostly beautiful blossoms. I’m in a season like that right now, where I’m enjoying the flowers planted by someone else. I’ve been at my current church for only 10 months, and I’ve been enjoying the beautiful blossoms as a result of the previous gardeners who tilled the soil, and planted, and watered, and fertilized. And all I’ve done so far is throw a cup of water on the plants occasionally to keep them alive. But I really don’t know the first thing about gardening. Actually, I do know the first thing. The first thing is that it takes more perseverance than I seem to have, and a lot more knowledge, skill, grit and ruthlessness.
You have to have boundaries with the garden. You can’t just let anything grow, sometimes you’ve got to rip stuff up. And I don’t always know which stuff. Sometimes you can work really hard, and in the end have seemingly nothing to show for it. Other times, it’s almost like you couldn’t stop things from growing if you tried. The success of the garden has a lot less to do with the gardener than we may think.
This is what I have been so grateful to carry, for teaching me that I am not a skilled gardener yet. I know so very little. Every class that I took here, showed me how everything that I thought I knew about a subject was just a ripple on the surface of an ocean that is miles deep. And I may walk across the stage today and received a piece of paper that says I have learned something – and I really have. But what I’ve learned is just one molecule in the universe of all that I don’t know. I may have studied biblical exegesis, spiritual disciplines, missiology, theologically-based worship practices, theories of atonement, Baptist doctrines, church history, among other things. But I still have way more questions than I have answers.
When a beautiful a beautiful lady came to me after church because her ex-daughter-in-law came out as a lesbian and won’t speak to her anymore. I didn’t know what to say. When a faithful husband moved his wife into a care facility because his doctor told him he’s being selfish by trying to care for her at home, I didn’t know how to help. When a 13-year-old boy was diagnosed with cancer, and his parents were just sick at heart and so angry, I didn’t know how to pray.
It turns out that having a successful ministry is not ultimately about how well you’ve studied your biblical exegesis, spiritual disciplines, missiology, theologically-based worship practices, theories of atonement, Baptist doctrines, church history, and all those things. As important and as helpful as they are, the ministry is about love. It’s about loving God and loving people, and none of us get awarded a degree in that. It’s an immeasurable subject, and when it comes right down to it, we are – all of us – just amateurs gardeners, throwing cups of water on things, and trying to learn the names of our plants. But that is to me, the greatest gift that seminary has given me. The chance to get a glimpse of how very little I really know.
I think that if there’s one thing that we as Christian leaders need, it’s this – humility. We need to know that we are not the ones who can produce the beautiful blossoms, only God can. The world doesn’t need more know-it-all Christian leaders, it needs people who are in love with Jesus and who are radically dependant on the Holy Spirit, because they know that without Him, they got nothing.
We need to remember, as graduates, that we may have been called to tend the flowers, but we can’t make things grow. Jesus asked us to pray for more workers to be sent out into His father’s garden. It’s His garden and we’re just the hired hands. If we don’t get down our knees and pray for the right amounts of rain, and sun, and healthy bacterial in the soil, and for God to keep the caterpillars and the hail away. Then we have no hope of producing those gorgeous blooms. It’s the Holy Spirit who does the work of transforming people’s lives into something beautiful. And our job is to watch, to pray, to follow God around and witness what He is growing in people’s lives. In spite or His naïve gardeners who mostly help in the way that I helped this Spring – by watching things grow. It is truly a privilege, that we been given to enjoy up close what God makes grow. And to gather up those beautiful flowers into bouquet and spread their fragrance everywhere.
So, I pray that as we graduate – graduate today thinking that we are pretty wise – that we will remember the words of James 3:13, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” May it be so with us.
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