Life’s Gardens, Sloth, and the Season We’re In

But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

Matthew 13:8

Our Many Gardens

Every spring, Sally plants various gardens around our house and on a corner of a large field not too far from us. Each garden is a unique combination of flowers, vegetables, and other plants. They are beautifully balanced between whimsy and order in their colors, the timing of their blooms and fruits, in their heights and widths, and in their diverse varieties. We have six beds in total plus a few planters with herbs, raspberries, and some random (at least to me) flowers.

The thing I’ve noticed about gardens is that they are a lot of work. Planning, planting, and tending require time, patience, and persistence. Gardens are under frequent assault by insects, birds, small mammals, grandchildren, deer, weather, weeds, and competing demands on our time. They are also quite beautiful when they are properly tended.

Looking out the window this morning, the bright flowers and green growth across our gardens reminded me of the many gardens of our lives. Consider for a moment the fertile fields we walk each day, working to sow our seeds, waiting for our seedlings to spring forth, hoping for our blooms and fruits to grow, and navigating the many threats to all of the above. Daily, we move among our fields of work, relationship, self, faith, and family, striving to create fruitful gardens bearing joy and fulfillment.

The Noonday Devil

I’m currently working through a series of reflections on the concept of acedia, or sloth. From The Noonday Devil by Jean-Charles Nault: “acedia is a gloomy combination of weariness, sadness, and a lack of purposefulness. It robs a person of his capacity for joy and leaves him feeling empty, or void of meaning.” Sloth can manifest itself in laziness or in busyness, productiveness or neglect. Other expressions associated with it: restlessness, lack of motivation, and half-heartedness.

The tricky thing about sloth is that it tends to develop slowly, quietly. Small neglects. Little choices. A bit of laziness. A moment of frustration. A tiny impatience. A mindless distraction. Discouragement is a creeping, slithering thing, that moves upon us with great stealth. Remember the movie, Joe Versus the Volcano? Tom Hanks’ character “Joe” was caught in the grip of acedia.

Looking back at those gardens, I think, “Wow, that’s a lot of work.” Can you smell it? That’s the first whiff of sloth. Listen to that for a day or two and weeds begin to appear. Give it a month and your beans are getting choked. Give it a summer and everything you’ve planted has disappeared.

Thinking about the gardens of my life, what else is a lot of work? Where else might I be questioning if it’s worth the effort, neglecting my duties, or feeling discouragement because of some struggle? Gardens aren’t created in a day and don’t die quickly. However, they require a lot of tending to reach their full potential.

This Season

Each spring, the time for sowing comes. A few months later, it is time to reap. This is the cycle of our gardens. They exist within the seasons, responding to the call of each as they move from growth to fruit to dormancy and on to new life again. Our stewardship through these seasons determines much of the fruit that is produced.

Every garden in our life demands attention through its seasons…if we want it to bear fruit. What gardens are you tending or not tending in your own life right now? Thinking of relationships that have come and gone, I wonder, did I grow halfhearted through my own sloth or was the season over for that particular garden? Thinking back on jobs I’ve held and lost, was I laid-off because of financial stress or was I not tending the garden of my responsibility properly? Looking at the garden of my family, have I done the hard spadework of keeping those rows clear and those branches pruned?

The thing about gardens is that they are hard work in and out of season. Diligence in preparation, persistence in tending, and faithfully showing up for the harvest all increase the possibility of great fruitfulness. Beware the slow slide of distraction, the quiet death of indifference, and the joy-killing constriction of half-heartedness.

Looking back to the beautiful whimsy of those flowers, the many conversations with our grandchildren about roots, blooms, bees, weeds, and effort, the life they attract, and the joy they give, I am more convinced than ever that they are worth the effort. There is no room for indifference when you can see the gift in the gardens of your life.

Showing 4 comments
  • Jerry Berry

    Nice piece Phillip.

  • Todd Stacy

    Thought provoking
    Thank you

  • Jarilyn Berry

    This analogy has stirred up a bit of dust for me – thank you! Beautiful and agree, thought provoking 💛

  • Jaime Borkowski

    Thanks, Phil. I love this one. So many applications across daily life.

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