Increasingly, the passage of time seems a blur. We’re already a month into 2023! These midwinter months push us inward. Blankets, sweaters, and hot beverages are tangible evidence of our desire for sanctuary and peace. Yet, instead of going into hibernation, this inward drive can provide a natural time for reflecting on who we are. Who are we becoming? What matters most to us?
I want to invite you to a mental exercise. Think of your inner life as a garden. In a vegetable garden, different factors impact the growth of the plants and the possible harvest.
There are the intrinsic qualities of the seeds planted. Tomato seeds grow tomato plants which yield tomatoes. There are the circumstances of the growing season — the weather, the amount of sunshine and rain, the insects and pests. And then there is the nurturing work of the gardener who waters, fertilizes, and otherwise cares for the growing plants.
Three factors: The intrinsic nature of the seeds, the external impact of circumstances, and the nurturing work of the gardener.
How do these three factors show up in your life?
We can think of our inner lives similarly. The seeds planted in our inner life have their own intrinsic qualities. These are our life experiences, relationships, people who cared for or hurt us, and the stories we hold about ourselves, the world, and God. Some have been constructive, helpful, and healing. Others were painful and difficult. Every seed bears fruit. We can’t do a lot about the intrinsic nature of these seeds other than name and understand them.
Similarly, the circumstances of wind, rain, and soil are out of our control. We can stomp our feet, demanding that the sun shines, but it won’t make much difference. These circumstances impact the growth of those seeds. Some of us have circumstances conducive to growth—supportive families, a life-giving community, adequate resources. Others among us have circumstances that make growth difficult. And in most ways, we are not in control of these circumstances.
So, we can’t do much about the seeds that have already been planted. Neither are we often in charge of the circumstances that impact our lives. Still, if we’re thinking about personal or spiritual growth, there is something we can do—the nurturing work of the gardener.
This is where, through our intentional choices, we steward our inner life. We respond to the circumstances. We can break and turn hard soil. We can add fertilizer. We can deal with pests. We can prune back unhealthy growth. We can notice and respond to the seeds that have been planted, choosing to weed those things that are unhealthy while providing trellises and gentle care for those things that are constructive.
In the world of personal development, this is “sharpening the saw.” In the realm of the spiritual, this includes our disciplines and practices. These practices don’t make us holy or catch God’s attention. They don’t change the soil or circumstances. But they are tools we can use in the gentle work of gardening our inner life toward a harvest of personal and spiritual growth.
So, today, maybe this week, think about these three factors.
What seeds have been planted in your life? What is their intrinsic nature? Which of these seeds has been for your good? Which has been not so good?
What circumstances have impacted your growth? What “Storm events” have made growth hard? Have there been seasons of sun and rain that have contributed to your growth?
Now, think about the work of gardening. Do you have practices now or in the past that you’ve used to keep the soil of your inner life fruitful? What are those practices? What impact have they had on you?
More on this next post.