From tilling and planting to reaping the harvest, gardening provides us with many rich examples of how to cultivate and tend to a healthy soul no matter the season we find ourselves in. In this article Ronne Rock offers the beautiful perspective that we are all gardeners of the rich soil of our hearts and shares 3 lessons we can learn from the soil to cultivate a healthy soul and a hope-filled life.
While I would love to consider myself a gardener, I find I am most clumsy at the daily work of cultivating flower beds. If it has to be consistently plucked, pruned, or pampered, then there’s not much chance for pretty. But I keep working at it, and getting the dark rich earth under my nails has taught me about far more than what can bloom in the Texas Hill Country; it’s teaching me about cultivating and tending to our souls.
For we too want to bloom.
While I am not a gardener, I still love every lesson taught in farmer’s almanacs of the abiding and tending of seedtime and harvest. Onions aren’t ready to be pulled from the ground as long as their necks are stiff. Ackee—a fruit that’s been part of my favorite birthday breakfast for years (ackee on toast on a sunny Jamaican morning is a most divine gift)—is poisonous until it is fully ripened. The only way to know if ackee is ready to be enjoyed is to allow it to open on its own. The poison is the fruit’s own defense against being forced open and eaten before its time.
We Are Not Meant Solely for the Harvest
Harvest is but a moment in season upon season of moments. So often we look at the harvest of our days as the proof of our soul’s health. We make the lists and block our calendars and juggle the projects and people and plans as we push our lives to the limit.
But gardens are not meant solely for the harvest. And neither are we.
Like gardening, cultivating a healthy soul is done in small and intentional ways. It is understanding the soil of our hearts, knowing what that soil needs to remain alive and active. It is tending to the lives that soil nurtures as if they are each the most important life.
I danced with joy the day I learned that soil is actually alive. It breathes, moves, and adapts. The inner work of the soil welcomes the reach of the tender plant roots. Then the roots receive nutrition and water, moving the life-giving care up the stems and leaves as they prepare to hold the fruit that will be life-giving to others. Here are 3 things the soil can teach us about cultivating a healthy soul.
1. CULTIVATING A HEALTHY SOUL BEGINS WITH RECEPTIVE SOIL
I think of the words of Jesus: “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word with a good and virtuous heart, and hold it firmly, and produce fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15, NASB).
In gardening, good soil yields to the turning and it does not fight the tilling. It receives the seeds that will one day bear fruit, and it does not try to force the bloom. It is strong enough to weather the storms while gently protecting tender sprigs. And it is wise enough to know the difference in the pressure being applied.
Between the tilling, the planting, the fertilizing and weeding, and harvesting, the good soil knows the gift of waiting—the tension between the now and the not-yet. As author Emily P. Freeman says, this tension can either tear us apart or it can break us open.
Like the soil, the cultivation of our own heart and soul is found in the seasons of the in-between. It is in the unseen, uncelebrated work of the gardener pulling weeds or the farmer keeping watch in the stillness of night or the land being given new breath for a future season.
In the Quiet Tending
And yet, it is in this quiet tending that the harvest is given its life. It is this in-between space in which the Lord’s creativity thrives. His grace shines; His love is revealed. And it is the space in which God dwells and pulls up a chair for us to sit, too.
God tills and turns over the areas in our lives that are hardened by fear or concern or pride of past pain or future worry. The Lord does not stop cultivating and making the soil in our lives healthy, for seeds of compassion, grace, kindness, patience, goodness, love, faith, and truth to be nourished.
Receptive soil reaches to receive the nutrients that can only be offered as the plant grows within it. It receives fresh life in the in-between. Hope is given clear sight. And gardeners know receptive soil also delights in seasons of rest and replenishment.
The Benefit of Fallow Ground
Now, perhaps you are a bit like me—maybe the twinges of shame creep in at the thought of slowing down, stepping away, taking a breath, and giving space for rest, believing that letting go of the good work will result in that work being dismantled, destroyed, or diminished—or forgotten entirely.
We view a lack of productivity as being ‘fallow ground’. And sadly, many of us have been taught that fallow ground is a negative thing. But gardeners and farmers alike allow ground to fallow. And in Hosea 3:12, the fallow ground isn’t unproductive at all, in fact, it is ready for a future harvest of love and righteousness.
“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you” (NIV).
Rest is a Gift
In our culture, fallowing is not a popular topic. As parents, business owners, or ministers, it’s tempting to push rest to the side as long as there are still needs to be met. But rest is a gift, an offering from Jesus to us as we cultivate a life that is life-giving. In Matthew 11:29, He invites Himself into the gardening rows with us, says He will shoulder the weight of the days, and then promises, “…when you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest.”
Rest for soil is an opportunity for it to be replenished, re-nourished, and restrengthened. Rest for our souls is the same.
We harvest strength in rest;
courage in rest;
wisdom in rest;
remembrance in rest;
grace in rest;
hope in rest.
2. CULTIVATING A HEALTHY SOUL CONTINUES WITH NOURISHED SOIL
The soil of our lives is refreshed in the in-between and replenished in the resting. But both the refreshing and replenishing takes place when the soil is nourished.
Cover plants are often used during fallowing season to provide protection and extra nutrition for the soil. During growing season, the plant roots themselves create new pathways to find nutrients and provide protection. And as plants are harvested, the dying leaves and stalks transform into the very nutrients needed by the soil to sustain future life.
In the same way, what we cultivate and allow to be cultivated in our lives is a picture of how we care for the soil of our souls. In Matthew 15:13, Jesus has strong words for religious leaders about what taints that soil: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”
Fruit from Unnourished Soil
He then proceeds to share specific examples of the types of fruit borne from unnourished soil. And every example given is the way you and I regard others:
Evil thoughts: You are less than—period.
Immoral sex: You are only good for my pleasure.
Theft: I will take what I think you don’t deserve.
Murder: You have no right to exist.
Adultery: I have no reason to keep my promise to you.
Greed: I deserve what you have—and more.
Wicked acts: I delight in seeing you diminished.
Treachery: I don’t care about your trust in me.
Sensuality: You only matter if I feel better.
Jealousy: I deserve better than you.
Slander: I don’t need to protect you.
Pride: I am more than you.
Foolishness: I hold no regard for you.
How do we nourish the soil of our souls?
In addition to allowing space for refreshing and replenishment, here are some things you and I can do to provide a healthy covering and strengthen the roots of our faith. (Remember, as a gardener, if it requires constant pruning, plucking, or pampering, I am likely to fail—so these are straight-forward and simple to understand.) They all come from Philippians 4:4-8.
- “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice.” Find joy in the days you’ve been given. Hope is revealed in joy.
- “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Be kind to others. Serve each other well. Remember, we’re all made in the image and likeness of God. And we are crafted for community.
- “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Have a great conversation with God. Pray big. Pray small. Keep the conversation going. Celebrate what He’s done. Hope is revealed in thanksgiving. Remember, God isn’t distant. He is WITH you, cultivating alongside you.
- “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Embrace the covering of His peace. What an incredible gift it is to receive.
- “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” What another beautiful reminder to be kind, to consider God’s power and goodness, and to see others as made in His image and likeness.
3. CULTIVATING A HEALTHY SOUL IS MADE COMPLETE WITH LIVING SOIL
I said that I danced with joy the day I learned that soil is actually alive. Nutrients make up only a portion of its composition. It’s made complete by two other elements: air and water.
Yes, soil needs air. It needs to breathe, so that it may breathe life into plants that then breathe life into the gardeners themselves who then breathe fresh life into the soil through their cultivation of it. It is a most beautiful picture—life being passed like a gift, on and on and on as a legacy. I think it’s no coincidence that air is essential to life. We can only live a few minutes without oxygen. The word respiration means more than to breathe—it means the actual creation of life.
Our souls need the breath of life, too. As it was in Genesis, so it is in our daily faith journey. Made in the image and likeness of God, He breathed His very breath into our lungs, giving us life. And the Holy Spirit continues to breathe life-transforming love into our lives.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
In John 14:26, we are told the Holy Spirit will teach us all things. In Romans 8:26, we learn that the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf, even when we can’t find the words to say. And the fruit of the Holy Spirit—the life-giving character of God—is what is planted deeply within the soil of our souls. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all fresh breaths in the lungs of a world in need of a harvest of grace and mercy.
Air breathes life into soil, and water sustains that life. Water moves and makes nutrients available and accessible to plants, and then shares those nutrients again with the soil for future harvests. Study the creation story, and you’ll see God wisely focusing on air and water first as He designs a destination that will sustain life. The Holy Spirit is there at the beginning, moving and shaping that life. And Scripture after Scripture reflects the sustaining care of the Holy Spirit in our lives. For example, Romans 5:5 says the Holy Spirit flows like water through our very hearts, revealing God’s impeccable love for us, offering a hope that never disappoints.
The Healthy Soul
Wendell Berry, author, poet, and passionate farmer, paints a powerful picture of a healthy soul as he says, “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of it all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
You, friend, are the gardener of a most holy and hope-filled land. Cultivate well the soil of your soul.
“The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring” (Isaiah 58:11, NLT).
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