Not being accustomed to gardening in the Northeast, I am somewhat amazed to see perennials starting to shoot out green in March. Past winters, except for the one spent in England a few years ago, have been suffered in less hospitable climates than upstate New York. I remember the stares of incredulity as I planted Iowa gardens before Mother’s Day, as well as covering up those plants in early May to protect them from a deep freeze. Of course, there’s nothing to say that I won’t have to do the same here.
I view gardening as one part of participating with God, in some small way, in the act of creation, as silly as that may seem. In my version of the bigger picture, I liken my plants to my own desires for “life as it should be.” I decide where each plant will be placed, who its neighbors will be and even how big I will allow it to get before surgically splitting and transplanting parts of it where I decide a new garden should exist. If that’s not an analogy for church planting, I don’t know what is. I, of course, also decide what is a garden plant and what is a weed.
Weather, of course, is also part of God’s creation and has a vastly competitive edge over the tiny signs of life beginning to emerge from my garden. While they are tender, a sudden cold snap can drain future life from their core. Too little or too much rain at the wrong time can stunt growth or produce so much foliage that the plant forgets to flower. In my little backyard garden, weather is both friend and foe – a true enigma for a controlling gardener. Try as we might to mitigate the effects of weather, there is only so much we can do before acknowledging that our little plot of paradise lives or dies at the whim of the uncontrollable.
I risk giving my garden more importance than the rest of God’s creation. In doing so, I allocate more value to my own will than God’s, which I do not fully comprehend anyway. Why would God not want my delphiniums to thrive? How would having my campanula wither fit into God’s larger plan? I planned this garden, made all the right decisions and even nurtured it in the way it should have been – why does God not will my little place in the world to look and be exactly as I envision it?
The answer, of course, for gardens and churches, is that we do not and cannot comprehend the bigger picture. All we can do is be faithful gardeners and trust that our efforts bring honor to God – whether or not they flower as we think they should.