Hustle culture surrounds us. Coaches and motivational speakers offer the secrets to productivity. We’re motivated (or maybe warned) that we all have the same 24 hours! The implied question is, “Why aren’t you making the most of yours?”
Even pastors and spiritual coaches, who you’d think would know better, add to the noise. Do more. Serve more. Read more. Attend another service. Join another group. Serve in one more ministry. Pray harder. Press in!
Your inner life doesn’t work this way.
In the last post, I invited you to do a mental exercise: to think of your inner life as a garden. Three factors impact what grows in a garden. There’s the intrinsic nature of the seeds, the external impact of circumstances, and the nurturing work of the gardener. (More on this here.)
Much of this is out of our control. Some seeds we plant on purpose; others are planted without our consent. Most of the outward circumstances are beyond our control. But that third factor—the nurturing work of the gardener—is where our intention and work play a part.
Your inner life is a garden that needs your active care. We can’t force growth to happen in the same way that a gardener cannot force seeds to grow. And yet there is work to do. We’ve been invited into a partnership with God. As gardeners, we can weed and water, fertilize, and prune.
Consider your gardening tools.
Every gardener has a tool shed or a garden bench where they keep the implements of their craft—soil additives, fertilizer, and bug repellant. A watering can, a hand trowel, a spade, a good rake, a hoe, some support stakes. Similarly, as the gardener of your inner life, you have several tools available. Self-care tools like rest, hydration, nourishment, and exercise. Spiritual disciplines like meditation, reflection on scripture, journaling, worship, fasting, silence, service, relational accountability, and so many others. Emotional care tools like grounding exercises, journaling, and even therapy.
The tools in the gardener’s shed aren’t applied randomly. The gardener doesn’t choose to use a tool just because that’s the one they like best. A thoughtful gardener understands the garden’s needs and uses the tool best suited for the task.
Similarly, spiritual practices are not universally helpful. What worked for one person might not work for another. The crucial discipleship practice taught in one book or sermon might be perfect for some, but in other circumstances might be unhealthy. Too much water or fertilizer can kill a plant. This means that one of the essential skills for nurturing our inner life is taking stock of our current season and needs.
More importantly, consider when to use each one.
What does it look like to make these kinds of choices to tend the soil of my heart?
In seasons of busyness and mental fragmentation, I need to use the pruning sheers of silence and contemplation. When I’m experiencing relational discord, I might apply the fertilizer of mature counsel, prayer, and relational accountability. In moments of confusion and uncertainty, I might reach for the tools of scriptural study and meditation, perhaps even fasting. If I’m feeling dry and disconnected, I might apply the water of spiritual reading, scripture memorization, and worship.
Do you notice what I’m not doing? I’m not choosing the spiritual practice I like best, or that comes most readily to me. I’m also not choosing a practice based on trends or some projection of what a “good Christian” must do. Instead, I’m thinking like a gardener. What does the garden of my inner life need right now? Are there seeds struggling to grow that could benefit from some life-giving fertilizer? Is the soil hard and dry, calling for some refreshing water? Are there weeds competing for attention that ought to be removed?
With this perspective, there is nothing obligatory or legalistic about spiritual practices. There is nothing here about crafting an image or blindly following some current discipleship fad. The season and the garden’s needs prompt the choice of tool. After all, we’re never using a spiritual practice for its own sake but to nurture a healthy inner life.
Your inner life is a garden. Hustle will not serve you. Labor, for its own sake, cannot bring about growth. Growth is God’s gift; our part is to attentively nurture the soil and receive the harvest.
More on this next post.