As kids, my sister and I convinced our parents to rent a local garden plot. We had high aspirations — tomatoes! Sunflowers! Corn! Cucumbers!
At first, gardening was fun. We bought seeds and hung cute little signs indicating what would grow where. We hauled water from the spigots several plots over. Our neighboring plots looked similar: tilled, labeled, hopeful.
The garden plot was only a quarter mile away, so we rode bikes to water and weed it. Until we didn’t want to anymore.
You can probably guess where this is going. By the end of the summer, our ten-foot-square garden plot had eight-foot-high weeds. Whenever our family drove past it, we saw the weeds looming. Total failure.
Mistake: Forgetting this is work
Sorry, kids. Gardening is not fun. It’s work. So is almost anything else in life worth doing. Having a strong spiritual life means working. Pursuing creativity is work. Being healthy takes work.
I make the mistake of thinking good things will be easy. And sure, they can be fun. But most good things — especially when starting out — are hard. We shouldn’t be surprised that it takes work to accomplish anything, but I am often caught off-guard by the grind.
Mistake: Forgetting about opposition
Nature is all about entropy: everything moves towards chaos. (If you need proof of this phenomenon, visit a house with small children.) We are constantly working against chaos to keep order.
My garden’s main opponent was not weeds. It was laziness. Eventually, the hard work at my garden plot did not seem worth the effort. I preferred to buy candy down the street or go swimming. It was summer, after all. The task of caring for the garden became hopeless. The weeds entirely overtook the plot.
Mistake: Forgetting the reward
Kids are notoriously short-sighted, so it’s no surprise I couldn’t see the reward of the day-in, day-out, bucket-hauling slog of maintaining my garden plot. Not only that, the reward at the end of the summer was going to be vegetables. Who thought that was a good idea? Maybe if the garden had produced doughnuts or something, I would have ponied up.
When I am working on a creative project, sometimes I get so mired down in the work that I forget the why. The reason I am sacrificing makes the sacrifice worthwhile. If we are not compelled by a big enough why, we will quit. Simple as that.
Excuse my excuses
Have you ever known people with an amazing gift to find excuses? To the point where it is comical and sad and ridiculous, all at once. Where you say, “Oh, did you get that project done?” and they manage to blame both the pollen count and the department head’s incompetence in an airtight excuse.
Excuses are a lot easier than failure. In fact, sometimes we lay out excuses before we attempt a challenge, just in case it will fail. Then no one will think it was because of us — it was because of the many valid reasons.
The good news
My sad little garden had plenty of excuses at hand, but none of them changed the reality. We eventually received a letter from the city at the end of the season, which told us they would be mowing down our plot. Luckily, they did not ban us from ever renting a plot again.
That’s the good news: we can try again. Even though all we had grown was eight hundred cubic feet of weeds. Even though we had probably failed more than anyone in garden plot history. We could start again the next summer.
A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, “What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?” The gardener said, “Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.”
When Jesus tells that story, he is demonstrating God’s patience with his people, giving the opportunity to turn to him. We get second chances and third chances and more.
This life is not a greenhouse. It’s not temperature-controlled and free of pests or birds. It’s chaotic and unpredictable and hard. Sometimes we allow it to turn into eight hundred cubic feet of weeds. But the good news is that Jesus is there, ready to till up the ground again. We get to give it another shot.