Friday, August 26, 2011

The work of rest

In recent months, I have taken to gardening. Let me simply note that this is a remarkable development. I was born with no green thumb. I did not grow up in a gardening family. My grandmother always kept a garden, but she did not subject her grandchildren to the laborious work of tilling the soil, planting seeds, watering religiously, pulling weeds, or the other work involved in keeping up a garden. I was not offered this tradition as some are given a family heirloom. There is no sociological reason I have taken to gardening.

But I am beginning to wonder if there is a biological reason, because I am finding that gardening offers me more comfort than nearly anything else I do. There is just something about starting seeds: something about ensuring they have the right soil and the right temperature and the right amount of water, planting them and watching the plants as they grow, produce, and ultimately die. When I began this project, I thought that perhaps my interest in gardening was a control issue. In the life of ministry, there is much out of my control. I suppose my job is to--forgive me--lay seeds and hope they will one day sprout. I thought that my gardening interest was then about control, because so much of ministry is beyond my control.

Then the plants started to grow, or rather, some of them started to grow, and I learned that while I could control some elements of growth, most were beyond my control. I could not control the rain, though I could water the plants accordingly. I could not control disease or bugs, though I could keep an eye out for them. I could not control how much fruit each plant put out, though I could plant them in such a way that they were given the best chance to produce.

I am realizing, as I write this, that I have become a plant parent.

What is most striking to me about the work of gardening, though, is that it is indeed work. It is much easier to go to the store and buy tomatoes and carrots than it is to begin them from seed, water them and care for them and hope that they produce. I am constantly checking on the next season's seedlings, looking at the weather forecast, puttering around the garden, picking fruit, pulling bugs off of plants, pulling weeds, thinking about what to plant next.

There are times I get too busy to work in the garden. Last week I had a meeting every single night, and I was out of town all weekend at the church's annual men's retreat. Sometimes, there is just no time to work in the garden. And when I come back from those times, as I did Thursday afternoon, it is quite clear I have neglected my responsibilities. Weeds are everywhere, vines are growing out of the raised beds and into the gravel, fruit begins to rot on the vine. Want to know how busy I have been at the church? Just come walk through my garden. If it is so overgrown that there is no room to walk, you can bet I've been neglecting my holy duty to rest.

It takes work to rest. This sounds strange, of course, but it is true. It takes work to slow down, to admit that I am tired, to find activities that nourish my soul. And even the rest itself is work, because it takes work to allow myself a few moments of not thinking about all the things I need to be doing at the church. It takes work to rest, and if I neglect that work, the garden becomes overgrown, unworkable, and it bears fruit that has rotten by the time I get to it.

So, if you will excuse me, I have some vines to wrangle.

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