Coming in from a quick look at the plants and grass in my backyard, just before the dark came, something occurred to me: For much of my adult life, I have been working and waiting for someone or something to grow.
Working and waiting seem to be two essential elements when helping plants or people to grow. Both working and waiting can be tiresome, risky, expensive and disappointing. But it also brings great rewards, especially when others help.
I have seen evidence of growth, sometimes over the long haul and sometimes in spurts. I also have seen evidence of stagnation and decline. I even have witnessed death in plants and people. Sometimes, the living spirit in the plant or the person just seems to leave them — to depart the premises.
Growth brings a particular joy, especially if I have had anything at all to do with it. Sometimes, just watching it brings a great joy. Growth also always brings some kind of change or rearrangement within itself and sometimes in me. Sometimes, my task is to guide the growth and train it in certain productive ways.
Stagnation and decline are hard — sometimes harder on the one who is encouraging the growth than on the plant or person experiencing it or not experiencing it. Sometimes growth is a result of something I did or didn’t do, in a small way, or just by fortune or timing, by the influence of others, or the passage of time.
At other times, I have been a lousy gardener or teacher, bad example, done the wrong thing, neglected the plant or the person, or in some other way have done things that actually hinder the growth in the plant or the person.
Sometimes, growth in others halts because, in some mysterious interconnecting way, growth in me also has stopped. At still other times, growth didn’t come because the culture or the dirt was toxic and not healthy, or the plant or the person had gotten itself too sick. Many of my plants have died because they just weren’t strong enough or protected enough to resist the freezing weather or drought.
“God is the Grower, not me. I am only the gardener.”
People experience that too, sometimes with spiritually terminal outcomes. I have some responsibility to encourage or enhance growth in the people or plants I am tending; and I can powerfully help or hinder growth by what I do and who I am.
But let it be said clearly: If growth in people or plants ever comes, it is God’s doing. It is the divine who makes all of it happen — from providing the essential nutrients to putting in place the essentials for growth. It is always the all-knowing and all-caring Almighty who brings any growth, whether in the soil on my property or in the souls of people.
God is the Grower, not me. I am only the gardener, with a love for growth and, despite my failures, an example of growth.
I’m going to bed, now and, in my prayers, I will ask God to help me in my tending to plants and people, with the waiting and the working. While I sleep, O Holy One, please help me, my plants and my people. Do in all of life what only you can do. Amen!
Bob Newell has served as a university professor and administrator, a local church pastor and a cross-cultural missionary. He and his wife, Janice, now live in Georgetown, Texas, and he serves churches as transition coach and intentional interim pastor. They were the founders and remain advocates of PORTA, the Albania House in Athens, Greece.