By Tracey Bianchi
I've always wanted the title of "expert gardener." Wielding a green thumb, plunging my hands into the earth, kvetching with others about compost or pruning. Standing at day's end with dirt on my forehead, hands on my hips, looking skyward to wonder when it might rain again. I imagine a crop of exotic vegetables and a mesclun salad that could land on the cover of Real Simple.
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Reality- in mid-June I hastily snatched up the remaining four tomato plants from our farmer's market knowing that real gardeners planted weeks ago. The hold out plants were slightly yellow, wilted, gasping for water in dusty, leached soil. It was all they had left. I dropped them into the ground, hoping for salad options by the weekend. It's now August and the plants are still wilted. Bright yellow blossoms seem reluctant to turn into fruit and my husband keeps asking, "So are we going to have enough for salsa?"If only they would grow faster.
Metaphors of growth and farmer's fields dot our Scriptures revealing the fact that good growth takes time. Last summer we removed a dying, 70 year old Ash tree from our front yard. It took decades to mature and stretch out limbs. I'll be dead before another tree envelops this home in its shady fold.
Spiritual growth takes more time than we want to give. We are sold lies that we should be able to ramp up the perfect prayer life, let go of grief, or kick an addiction in a few small steps. Most of us who have even dabbled in the Scriptures know that Jesus never ever, ever never suggests a fast-track to the fruit of the Spirit and yet, we still seek quick results.
Reality-can't show up a month late with drab little plants and expect prize winning crops. Instead, I have a few measly tomatoes all the while wishing for the crimson, juicy fruit my neighbor has across the street. The four plants didn't fail but they didn't thrive either. But next year? Next year I will pick lush, verdant plants in the early season and plant them on time. Next year, the tomatoes will really come in.
What if next year a drought or insect attacks my little plot and I am left aching again, replanting and waiting yet again. And on it goes. Is it any wonder that Paul lists patience as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5?
So as these tangible summer days give way to the tumbling leaves of fall, may you embrace the long, arduous journey of spiritual growth. May you wake every morning longing for a new lesson rather than new fruit. And may the fruit of your labor eventually lead you to the arms of the Good Farmer Himself.
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Tracey Bianchi is the Worship and Teaching Pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook, a congregation of 3000+ in the Chicago area. She (along with Adele Calhoun) is a co-author of the forthcoming book True You: Moving Beyond Self-Doubt and Using Your Voice (InterVarsity Press, January 2015). traceybianchi.com