If I have learned one thing through my years of gardening, it’s that I can only do so much.
I can amend the soil. I can pull weeds. I can companion plant by placing mutually beneficial plants near each other. I can make sure the plants are watered. I can till and keep the garden, just like the first humans were commissioned to do in the Garden of Eden. But, I cannot make plants grow.
As a gardener, my job is to nurture the environment in which I place the plants, but that’s where my work ends. I cannot teach a tomato plant how to grow a tomato. Nothing I do can teach my swiss chard how to grow new leaves after I’ve harvested the mature ones. Garden plants produce fruit because that’s what they are designed to do. I can cultivate the land, but I cannot teach my plants how to produce a harvest. They do what they were made to do.
In the book of Galatians1, the Apostle Paul gives two lists: the works of the flesh, and the fruit of the Spirit. While it may be a minor difference—“works” in one list, and “fruit” in the other—I believe Paul uses these words for a reason. We were designed to produce the fruit of the Spirit; it is who we are.
We can’t make ourselves bear fruit. We can’t do enough good works to show that we are, indeed, patient, loving, kind, self-controlled, or generous.What we can do is create the proper environment for nurturing these things. If we do, the fruit will grow in our lives because that is how God created us.
The trouble is, we do not always find ourselves in ideal growing conditions. We are made for the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience,” and the like; yet, we are often fertilized by hatred, discord, impatience, and resentment. We are planted next to invasive things that try to choke out who and what we are. We find ourselves planted in sidewalk cracks, and next to buildings—all places where it can be difficult for us to thrive.
Even though our current growing conditions may not be ideal, we have some tools at our disposal to get our garden growing. These three steps are a great place to start:
Amend the Soil
When I first started gardening, I was pretty naïve. I thought all soil was the same. Dirt is dirt, right? I quickly learned there is a whole lot going on in the soil that we can’t see with our eyes. We have to check the soil pH and see what nutrients might be lacking if we want the soil to be at its best.
Most people have no trouble growing zucchini, but I have a terrible track record with it. My plants used to produce tiny zucchinis, only to have them immediately turn yellow and rot. After doing some research, I discovered that it was likely my soil was calcium deficient. By adding calcium to the soil, I could increase the likelihood of having a healthy crop of zucchinis.
Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. As you read through the list, which fruit is most lacking in your life, or which one do you think has the most potential for growth? As you reflect on the fruit you’d like to see thrive, take inventory of the conditions of your life. Are you amending the soil with practices that encourage these things to grow? If things like impatience, resentment, hostility, or unhealthy forms of anger are manifesting themselves in your life, it may be time to do a soil check. What’s lacking? Of what might there be too much?
Pull the Weeds
The only difference between a plant and a weed is that a weed is growing in a place you don’t want it. Even still, there are certain “weeds” that have the habit of choking out the things you are trying to grow in your life. This spring I waited too long to pull the bindweed that was taking over my asparagus patch, and when I finally did it, I realized that very few asparagus had survived because of it. Weeds choke out the sunlight and soil resources plants need, and they also compete for root space. What things are crowding out your soil as you are growing the fruit of the Spirit? What things are taking up too much space and just need to go?
I have also learned that sometimes weeds are good things, just in the wrong place. As a lover of plants, I tend to nurture things even when they aren’t growing where I want them to grow. I put a fence around milkweed that appeared in my yard so that I wouldn’t accidentally run it over with the lawn mower. Many times, this “embrace what appears” method of gardening works well, but sometimes it backfires. Last year, I had a tomatillo plant appear in my garden. I was so excited and decided to keep it; however, it grew so tall it stunted my nearby tomato plants.
Pulling the weeds in our lives so that fruit can grow can mean weeding out obviously troublesome things from our lives, but sometimes it also means weeding out helpful things that have planted themselves in the wrong place.
After you’ve done a soil check, it’s time to investigate for weeds. What is choking out the growth you want to see?
After a soil check and weeding, it’s time to make sure you are staying hydrated and refreshed. If you are spending day after day toiling under the scorching sun of daily life, you also have to take time to be replenished. While overwatering can be a risk, all our efforts to grow good fruit will be thwarted if we are scorched and burned out. If you were to “add water” in your life, what things might be nurturing and life-giving? Where are you already finding refreshment in your life? Where are you in need of drinking cool water and resting?
At times it may seem impossible to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in this modern age, like trying to grow flowers in a slab of concrete. We must remember we were made to grow and thrive. We were created to bear fruit—that’s just who we are. The growth is God’s doing, and it’s already begun in each of us. We may just need to do a little garden work.
Galatians 5:18-23 ↩