Tumbling in the Sand
A friend of mine asked me to help her learn to garden. I honestly have mixed feelings about this.
Not because I’m not excited that she wants to learn to garden—I am. Not because I don’t love helping people garden—I do. Not because I’m not excited about helping her learn to garden—I very much am. And I even know it will be fun. I love gardening.
The problem is, I’m a really lousy gardener.
That sounds ridiculous coming from someone who started planting seeds when they were like six, who worked for an orchid grower, who has a degree in Plant and Soil sciences, who has worked in community gardens off and on for a number of years, and has helped families learn to garden through an AmeriCorps program. But, it’s true. You see, my professional gardening knowledge is quite sound. Yes, I can give you all the basic details of growing something (and even a few tips that aren’t so basic) and I can even grow most things, if I have to do it for work … but, when it comes to doing it for me … well.
Anyway, so my friend has asked me to help her learn to garden. So, we went out and got her some seeds and pots and dirt and I showed her how to read a seed packet and offered some advice on planting the seeds at a good depth and sent her on her way … for now.
She wants to start with pots and maybe next year try an actual in-ground garden; but, in the mean time she wants us to help each other this year, so that I can help her with her container garden (an awesome way to grow things, by the way) and then she can come and help me in my in-ground garden. It’s a great way to learn to garden. The best way, actually—because you get to learn from each other and you get to see how someone whose done it before does it. And it’s fun because you have company while you play in the dirt.
The problem is, I’m a really lousy gardener.
The year after I finished AmeriCorps, which followed right on the heels of the degree in Plant and Soil Science, I didn’t plant a thing. I had spent the previous four years of my life working on growing plants every day all day and I was sick of seeds and dirt and anything remotely like growing something. A couple of years went by and each summer I started to do a little bit more—some flower pots with pre-grown plants from assorted local garden centers, eventually a small flower bed, and finally even a veggie garden.
Though, the first year I planted the garden, that’s all I did—plant it. I watched it grow, sort of. I let the weeds grow too and I didn’t provide cages for the tomatoes or fences for the peas. I didn’t water it. I picked nothing out of it. It was a giant weed bed—and I found it delightful.
It’s been a few years now, and last year I even harvested some peas, tomatoes, basil, potatoes, a pepper, and even a couple of eggplant from my garden … but, I’ve never really gone back. My garden is a mess. I never get much out of it and anyone looking to actually eat out of my garden would without a doubt starve.
But, my friend has asked me to help her learn to garden.
So, this year, I hope to do a little better.
I pulled out my seeds from the garage where I found them and went through them. I have a seed addiction. I buy seeds all the time, with every intention in the world of planting them and then I never get there. I found seeds that had dates on the packages from 2003. I’ve moved 4 times since 2003. I found maybe five unopened packets of peas. There were some okra and bean seeds that were open, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually grown such things in my garden (though, I’m sure it would be fun to try…)
Some of the seeds, I just decided to toss. Some of the seeds, I planted in a starter tray with about 10 seeds per peat pellet, hoping that maybe I’ll have one plant per pellet when it’s all said and done. And I even labeled the tray with which seeds are where. This is a first in quite a while … last year, when I planted four different kinds of tomatoes, I figured out what kinds they were after they’d started setting fruit. One variety, I never quite figured out, having totally forgotten what I’d actually planted other than Purple Cherokee, Blush, and Peacevine. It wasn’t any of those: that much, I know.
Ah, yes, I’m a lousy gardener.
All of this got me thinking about how the way I garden is an awful lot like the way I take care of my faith life—and I almost hate to say that, being a pastor and all. Talk about sounding ridiculous.
I’m pretty good at the whole professional aspect of it: I can do a Bible study for a church group, or write reflections on the texts that I will preach on and I can study to write a sermon. I often pray for church and for the people in my church and for people who ask for prayer and even the community and the world. But, I tend to be a lousy gardener of my own faith life. The garden of my “soul” is a bit of a riotous weed bed—and while I delight in the weediness, it doesn’t provide much nutritional value…
I kind of collect books about faith and the life of faith the way I do seeds. My shelves have lots of books on them that looked so good and so interesting to read—but they mostly just sit there, the spines un-cracked. A few are well worn and used—but mostly for work—and a very many more have clearly been opened, but I don’t remember what they said at all. They still look like good reads, though.
I wonder if as I embark on this effort to garden a bit better if I might spend some time trying to be a bit better at tending my faith life as well. I wonder if I might (maybe with the help of my friend) find a way between—a way between that nice, clean professional garden (or field or greenhouse) and the messy weed bed—that nice, polished professional faith life and the weedy mess that feels a whole lot more like myself. I wonder if maybe I could get a little bit more comfortable with “good enough” (rather than professional or not at all) and trust grace—and the beauty of the weeds—to do the rest.