We're starting a garden this year. The whole thing is a mystery to me. I have no context for where to begin or where we are going, but I love the idea of digging around with the boys and if we get one plant that grows something we can eat, I'll consider it a success.
A friend let me borrow her book that covers "the basics," and what it basically showed me is that I have no clue what I'm doing. Under the influence of ignorance, I bought a tray, a bag of dirt and a few packs of seeds. When they are strong enough, we'll move them outside.
One of the things I recently learned is that the roots grow first. Before life emerges above the surface, the system for sustaining life travels down and out. The upward, visible growth happens soon after and the two continue simultaneously. There is no waiting on a perfect system for flourishing to begin. The two happen with each other and because of each other.
All the life lessons are apparently found in gardening.
So I've been thinking about these seeds and the way the whole thing works....what's happening on the surface and what's happening below. Separate systems, utilizing different strengths and serving individual purposes; and yet, the two are one in the same. One cannot live without the other.
Those little green chutes keep stretching up to face the sun, literally bending their figures to arch towards its light, fueling the work that is hidden. Then there's the growth in the dark, under the cover of soil and away from what can be seen. Thin pale roots are pushing through the dirt, drinking in water and nutrients and sending them back to the surface. The roots below and the leaves above thrive because of each other. Life comes from growth in both places.
When I'm invited to speak with a group of women, I often mention Mary and Martha and the time they had Jesus come to visit.
You've probably heard the story. Mary and Martha were sisters. They were hosting Jesus and a group of his followers in their home. While Martha anxiously swept the floors, prepared the food and fought to get everything just right, Mary sat adoringly at the feet of Jesus, soaking in every word he had to say. Martha was, understandably, angry. She asked Jesus to demand that Mary help her, but Jesus said that Mary had chosen to do the thing that mattered the most and he wouldn't take that away from her.
I love Martha because I understand her. I love Mary and her heart for being near Jesus. I love the way Jesus values and affirms Mary, despite a culture that would have said that, as a woman, she had no place setting aside housework in order to listen to his teaching.
However, can I tell you what I think every time I read this story right now? Honestly, all I can think is, "Well, that's lovely, but what if I don't have the energy or brain space to be Mary OR Martha? What if I rarely sweep my floors and I even more rarely sit quietly with Jesus because three boys five and under means I JUST WANT EVERYONE TO STAY OUT OF THE EMERGENCY ROOM?"
My house does not reflect Martha. If you come over and need to use my bathroom, good luck.
And Mary. I was Mary once. It was called college.
These days, I'm just trying to make it 8:00 PM. If everyone goes to bed with a full stomach, wearing clean-ish clothes and no stitches, I count it as a win.
I'm not Mary and I'm not Martha. I'm the woman standing outside the house with her ear pressed against the open window, hoping to catch 25% of what's said while she nurses a baby and watches the bigger little kids roll down a hill.
Motherhood hasn't cornered the market on exhaustion. Many of us would say we're running on fumes, just barely crawling out of one day before being tossed into the next.
. . . . . . . . . . .
We are in the baby stage of gardening. It's the time for watering, watching and waiting.
I keep looking at these fragile plants and marveling at their determination and design. They remind me that if I don't foster my own growth in a way that extends both above and below the surface, I can't expect abundance.
The beans have grown exponentially faster than the rest and yesterday, they started falling over. I kept propping them up and packing the down the dirt, wondering what was going wrong. It took my non-gardening brain a few minutes to realize that the roots were suffocating in those tiny seed pods. Above the surface they looked amazing, but they were outgrowing their root system and as a result, they literally could not stand. It was time to move them.
I naturally spend a lot of time focused on above-the-surface growth - graduate school, home renovations, hosting dinners, etc - but when each step forward only wears me out more, it's normally a good indication that I'm neglecting the type of growth that moves down and out before continuing to grow upward. It tells me that I'm lacking the stability needed to maintain forward motion.
If you are like me and you find yourself outside the window, ear pressed to the wall, hoping to grab a little of Jesus wherever you can, guess what...Jesus knows something about being exhausted. He knows something about people wanting more from him than he could give them while confined to a physical body. He knows something about saying "no" and letting people down and waking up early to escape the noise and be alone with his Father. He actually knows a lot about that.
The One who knows, who so fully understands, promises to "refresh the weary and satisfy the faint,"
Jesus came so that we would see the promise of abundant life fulfilled. But the demands of living aren't going anywhere, are they? It would be easy to imagine Mary as some kind of free-spirited saint who didn't have children or grief or obligations. That's certainly how we could interpret her story. I think we would be wrong though.
Maybe sitting at the feet of Jesus, at least for right now, has a lot more to do with the orientation of our hearts and where we set our gaze, than it does the number of minutes we spend sitting in quiet reflection.
. . . . . . . . . . .
The seeds we planted need a few things to thrive: (1) Water (2) Time to Rest (3) Quality Dirt (4) Boundaries for Protection and Space (5) Sunlight.
People aren't that different. If we are going to thrive, we need to tend to a few things first:
WATER: Actual water. Not coffee. Not wine. Not tea or beer or diet soda. Actual water.
TIME TO REST: Physical rest. Spiritual rest. Hours outside with no phone in sight. Going to bed without turning on the TV. Filling up on the things that refresh and restore our minds and spirits and relationships.
GOOD DIRT: I'm going to call this our community. It is hard and it is essential. It holds us up and keeps us grounded. Life is simply less alive if we think we can do it on our own.
BOUNDARIES: I had no idea that plants needed to be spaced out away from each other depending on their size and structure. It sounds a lot like humans. We need boundaries to keep the good stuff in and the toxic stuff out. We need boundaries because we are finite and if we don't pick and choose, the stuff that matters most can't find enough air and sunlight to flourish.
SUNLIGHT: On days like yesterday, I leave that tray of baby plants out in the yard in the full sun. They soak it up and stand taller, because it feeds them in a way that can't be replicated inside. Sometimes I have those moments with Jesus - stretched out in the light, no hurry, no noise, just rest. Those are the moments I get to be Mary as we see her in the story, sitting at his feet in awe and wonder.
But do you know what I do when it's too cold to set them in the yard? I carry them to the window and I watch them lean into the warmth of the sun.
I'm a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg's call to lean in. Those two words describe so much of how I interact with the world and my life "above the surface". But right now, these baby plants are teaching me what it means to lean in towards the light of God, especially when the noise and the motion have set me outside the main room, with my ear pressed against the window. They are teaching me what it means to have the heart of Mary, leaning towards the voice of Jesus despite the chaos everywhere else.
I'm learning to lean in while I drive or cook or clean, with the music loud and the lyrics serving as the most focused prayers I can sing. I'm learning to stretch my neck towards the light when I'm impatient and the words coming out of my mouth surprise me as much as they surprise my children.
I'm learning to turn my face to the window and let the wisdom and love of the Father fall on my resentment and my temper and my selfish need to be right.
It's a new week and I'm slowing down a bit to tend to the things I need in order to thrive and grow deeper, leaning into the light of the sun, especially when it feels unfathomable.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” -Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message Translation)