artwork of field with small bright green plants popping up

“Hope of Harvest”

9″x12″ Pastel

© Amanda Griffey 2018

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Spring planting always amazes me. How you can drop a seed in the ground, it sprouts, grows into a plant, and then produces a harvest. But sometimes it’s not easy.

The last few years I have started my own tomato and peppers from seed, rather than buy them as seedlings. For some reason though, they are never very strong. Our field crops take right off without any trouble though. Part of that is the type of plant, as well as the seed, as row crop seeds are selectively bred for hardiness and viability in certain growing conditions. But there are other factors too, like soil type, nutrient levels, light, soil temperature, and more. While I make sure I give my garden seedlings the best start possible like quality seed starting mix, fertilizers, grow lights, etc, they are often still frail.

This year, I started my seeds as I usually do, in seed trays under grow lights, and after they get large enough, I transplant them into larger containers and began preparing them for their “hardening off” phase. If you are not a gardener, hardening off plants involves putting them outside for short time periods to get them acclimated to being outside. They can get scorched by the natural sunlight, as well as they need to get acclimated to changing temperatures. This year I placed my seedlings in a clear plastic tote without a lid to make them easier to transport them back and forth during the hardening off period. The tote also offered a little bit of protection against the wind. After about a week, they seemed pretty acclimated to sunlight, but it was still pretty early in the season, and we were expecting some cool overnight temperature that made me consider bringing them in. I decided against it and thought I would see how they would do. Much to my surprise, they faired pretty well, but their stems were still pretty weak. So, after another week or so, I decided to take them out of the tote. Taking away their protection seemed a bit counterproductive, but I thought after they did well in the cool temperatures, I would try it. Now that another week or so has passed I am very happy to report that my plants are getting very strong and are now some of the best seedlings I have raised yet.

So why did taking away their protection actually help them? It allowed them to face adversity and become stronger through it.  I guess the old adage “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” rang true for these plants. It’s also true for us- both our physical bodies, and our faith.

As for our physical bodies, if you sit on the couch all the time, you are not going to be very strong. But if you get out and do physical work, you will get strong. You might be sore for a while, but you will get stronger every day until you can handle the work. But you don’t just jump in and do really hard work one day and expect that to be enough- it takes time and repetition to build strength.  If you have ever lifted weights, you know that you don’t start out with the heaviest weights you can handle- you will “break” and possibly injure yourself. You often start with weights that you can handle, but stretches or pushes you just a little past what’s comfortable. You then gradually add more weight as you get stronger.

 

 

 

The same is true for our faith. Jesus talks about how we are to start out in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. “Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

In this parable, Jesus explains that the seed is the word of God, and that our hearts are the soil.  When we first hear the Gospel, we are most vulnerable-some seeds never take root, and some do, but shoot up and get scorched or choked out by thorns.  Then there are some that take root and produce a bountiful harvest. But I don’t think the ones that produced a harvest had perfect growing conditions either. While they may have had good soil, I would venture to guess that they still had some adverse conditions to face.

Before his death, Jesus told the disciples “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16 :33. The disciples were scared and confused- Jesus was leaving. But it was for their own good.

Just like the tote for my plants, Jesus had trained and protected the disciples allowing their faith to take good root. But now it was time for them to get stronger in their faith and there was only one way to do that- take away the protection. Like tomato plants, our faith cannot grow stronger without some trials and adversity.

But that doesn’t mean we are left out there all alone to face the storms of life without any protection. Jesus also promised the disciples that they wouldn’t be left alone.   “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:25-27

As believers, we have access to the Advocate, the Holy Spirit to help us when the storms of life are too much to bear. In the tomato plant analogy, I like to think of the Holy Sprit as the tomato cage. It doesn’t offer too much protection that we don’t become strong on our own, but it is there for support when the winds blow a little harder than what we can handle on our own, or when the weight of our load becomes too much to bear.

So, the next time you face adversity or troubles in life, take a minute to examine them-are they there to grow your faith stronger? Are they too much to bear? You can lean into Christ to support you through them. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46: 1