With My Hands in the Dirt 

If I’ve learned one thing through gardening, it is this: our God, the Gardener is so delighted.

My 30s have brought out the plant lady in me. I was raised on fresh corn and garden chores with buckets of tomatoes to be picked each week from my dad’s plot. I was fine to part with those hot, itchy chores when I parted from home to college.  

It was the spring of 2020 that brought me back to gardening (#CovidProject). And this growing hobby has not only given me fresh tomatoes and peppers. It is also teaching me abundant lessons about life with Jesus that I couldn’t find just staring at a screen all day or standing in the produce aisle. 

Amidst seemingly unspiritual and ordinary dirt-based projects, I’ve come to find little holy “ah-ha” moments. I get more and more why Jesus used agriculture to teach spiritual truths. Seeds and soils are ever ripe with parables.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about Jesus with my hands in the dirt. 

Things happen slowly. Growth is patient. 

When I spend time on something, I like seeing progress. I want to work and see the fruit of it. Maybe you relate. 

Yet, that’s not really how gardening works. There’s a reason seed packets say, “days to maturity” and “days to harvest” on them. We need help undoing our instant gratification expectations. 

The garden holds an invitation to patience with the sentiment of Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” And I must say, the taste of the first raspberry over a year after planting them is very much savored and sweet. 

Things also happen quickly! 

Just when gardening slows my pace and expectations, I’m blown away when things seem to happen overnight! 

After picking a heap of green beans one day, I discover a new pile ready the next. Or before produce shows itself, there’s excitement over a new leaf or branch that seems to come out of nowhere! I notice how much joy there is in the surprise of the Creator’s work that I couldn’t have predicted or controlled. Isaiah 43:19 says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” The garden gives me a front-row seat in seeing the Creator’s new and surprising work. 

I am not in control. 

I find myself saying this a lot in the garden—the pace is not mine. The surprise of the good growth, the weather, the critters, and all the impact it has on what grows and doesn’t is a healthy ongoing experience of acting where I can and understanding there’s a lot I can do very little about. 

The strawberry plants I’ve babied for weeks refuse to produce more than a few leaves, and the volunteer tomato plant that sprung up on its own outside the fence is currently my healthiest-looking plant. We try and we learn and we try again. 

Sometimes things go well and sometimes they don’t, not for lack of effort. Days spent in the garden remind me how often the prayers of my rural upbringing included asking for rain and favorable weather. The lack of control that is always true in our lives is much more apparent in the garden, and it turns our eyes to the One who is in and over all things. 

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 145:15-16 of being in the hands of a Creator we can trust: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” 

Tend to the soil first. 

One role I’ve become more active in is soil care. Soil is mysterious and frustrating. It is the least exciting part of gardening and perhaps the most critical. We know our environment determines so much about our well-being and flourishing. That’s true for plants, too. 

The ground needs weeding and watering. It’s nourished by compost, nutrients, and rest as plants deplete it and deficiencies can make the ground inhabitable. Excitement for a bountiful harvest is easy. But cultivating soil that will yield a harvest takes effort and intention.  

Proverbs 4:23 instructs, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” My words, my attitudes, my actions come from the soil of my heart.  

It makes me consider what it looks like to tend the soil of my soul as I am this soil in my garden. 

Weeding is necessary for us. 

Weeding is the least awesome job, but necessary to keep plants from being choked or overtaken. It is dirty. It is time-consuming. It is so…daily. The same and different weeds pop up in the same and different places. They cause less destruction when pulled small and frequently. 

Likewise, my own soul needs the weeds pulled—attitudes, habits, my own brokenness. They cause less destruction when pulled small and frequently. Weeding has become an act of repentance. I can physically pray Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me”—confessing as weeds are pulled and receiving God’s forgiveness and a fresh start in the unburdened soil of grace. 

Embrace the garden you have. 

Listening to seasoned gardeners, I’ve heard this repeated wisdom. 

I would love to have a lime tree, but in the Zone 4 climate where I currently live? Sorry, northerners, that’s just not going to happen. This season’s thriving raspberry canes, on the other hand, have surpassed the height of the previous winter’s snowbank! 

Shade plants need shade. Coneflowers need a sunny spot. Ferns want to grow in the lower-lying areas with more moisture. Lavender prefers drier soil. If I try to plant a garden that would grow in Georgia in my yard in Minnesota, I’m going to think it’s a failure. My best thriving will be found in embracing the strength and character of the dirt, the sun, and the weather that I’ve been given—to embrace what I have and let it do what it can do best. 

Psalm 118:24 puts it like this, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” 

The sentiment “bloom where you’re planted” requires a sensitivity and adaptation to what can thrive there. I may not have a lime tree, but you should see my Morning Glories. 

Beauty and wonder are all around. 

Time spent with my hands in the dirt slows me down enough to actually notice the world around me. Each leaf, each buzzing bee, and how they all work together is nothing short of a masterpiece of connected living parts.  

There is so much to behold here. It teaches me to notice long enough elsewhere to be in awe like the writer of Psalm 8:1, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” 

The Gardener is delighted. 

If I’ve learned one thing through gardening, it is this: our God, the Gardener is so delighted. 

When a thousand red little beetles had their holiday feast in my patch of lilies a few weeks ago, I sat judiciously picking the bugs and larvae from the leaves. They had grown so beautifully in their second season and were so close to blooming when the red bugs set in. I went leaf by leaf picking the beetles off with my hands. 

Then it hit me. I wasn’t disappointed about the plants. I wanted to do everything I could to see them bloom. And they eventually did. Boldly blooming in bursting yellows, oranges, and pinks in all their beetle-bitten glory. But they were absolutely beautiful, and I couldn’t have been more delighted and proud. 

Gardening isn’t just about the Instagram-worthy moments. It’s also about the work of growing and guiding and blossoming. 

On days I feel particularly beetle-bitten—when I’m not sure I’ll make it to bloom, when I wonder if God just might be disappointed with the state of me, my life, my fruit—I get to literally take up Jesus on His invitation to consider the lilies. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-29). 
These lilies have illustrated the Father’s affection toward me. Jesus gave His own life to express His love for me, and He rose in a garden. Our Savior echoes a story of death and life and renewal in the dirt. 

And from my garden, where I sit among weeds and wonder, I see a bit more of how He calls us to this same work. 

Perhaps, dear one, you might too. 

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