Last week marked our third attempt to grow plants in our condo. The first time we tried to grow flowers in the guest room by the window, but there wasn’t enough light. The second time, we tried to grow plants on our porch but the whole thing is always covered in shade. I was barely successful in keeping succulents alive in the living room.
But then – as we looked at our house with new eyes upon our return from three months in Michigan – we realized that we have a bit of a balcony right outside our master bedroom windows. It’s not meant to be a balcony, but it gets a lot of sun. There’s a concrete ledge that’s at least 2 feet wide and then a flat roof that extends about 8 feet beyond that. My husband popped out one of the window screens and now we’re able to climb out onto the ledge!
Doing all the right things
Upon this discovery, I immediately declared it was time to try to grow plants again. My kids were thrilled at this possibility and bugged me for two weeks until I went to Home Depot to pick up supplies. I brought home short carrot seeds and radish seeds and a small venus fly trap just for fun. The boys helped me fill the pots and planters with soil and drop in some seeds. They took great delight in misting the soil with a spray bottle. And now, there’s a cluster of pots and planters on the left side of the concrete ledge, in the sunniest spot.
I am so hopeful that this will finally work, that in a few days we’ll see some green poking out of the soil. In the meantime, the planters don’t look like much – just some receptacles for dirt. Still, the boys check on the progress, faithful to water and to watch.
Sometimes, we treat our faith the same way. We look for evidence of God’s pleasure with us by way of blessing as proof that we did all the right things. And we live our lives that way. If I add water and sunlight, the plant will grow. If we have family devotions everyday, my kids won’t leave the church. If I pray and read my Bible, God will answer me favorably. If I am generous with my time and money, God will bless me in return. .
And then we are blind-sighted by life’s circumstances. Things go awry, we experience pain and suffering; we don’t get the outcome we expected. We wonder where God is in all of this and we try to pinpoint where we went wrong, as if our faith could be boiled down to a formula that we follow. Somewhere along the way, we have internalized the mistaken idea that our morality and box-checking will guarantee us a mostly good and blessed life.
“If we are in control of the outcomes, where does that leave God?” Skye Jethani asks in his book, With.
An uncomfortable thought
I’ve been challenged to take a critical look at my faith. I’ve always been the Good Girl, the one who reads her Bible and prays every day, who grew up going to VBS and helping in the church nursery. I never partied, rebelled, or went off the deep end. I grew up to lead Bible studies and pursue justice. And when I look around at my life and see the health and wealth I’ve been blessed with, what do I attribute it to? I thank God for it all, but is there a part of me that smugly thinks that I in some way earned this outcome with all of my right behavior?
Because if that’s my attitude, I will have no theology for pain and suffering. My faith will be too weak to withstand life’s storms, if I haven’t made room in my life for God’s mystery and unsearchable movements. Instead, I must humbly take the posture of a pot of dirt and acknowledge that God is the grower, independent of all my efforts. But it’s a paradox isn’t it? Like Jen Pollock Michel notes in her book Surprised by Paradox:
“Grace provides all that we need in terms of the tools for growing a life deep in Christ, but it will not spare us the effort of picking them up.”
May we not forget that a life deep in Christ is the ultimate treasure, apart from any pleasure or pain that we experience along the way.
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