The Gardener’s Guide to Life

I have a garden. It’s not much to look at really, just a small patch of dirt (and we’re going to be honest it’s more sand than dirt) in the back corner of my yard.

At the beginning of the year I was all excited about this garden. I borrowed my dad’s tiller and dug up the ground, I went to the hardware store and looked at seeds; in my mind this garden was going to be the best.

Then came the waiting time. Let the record show that I am not good at waiting. I mean seriously three MONTHS for this stupid squash to sprout? The weeds in my yard sprout in about three DAYS. Can’t we just eat them?

But I waited. And waited. And waited.

And finally I started to see little buds of green poking up through the earth. If you’ve never had a garden you can’t know how exciting that is, the realization that the thing you planted, that dead, boring looking seed, is growing up through the earth shooting out its tiny green leaves.

And then there’s more waiting. Because those little green sprouts take time to mature and grow.

But finally they did grow and there was fruit on the vine, not very big fruit mind you, but it ripened nicely, and it was truly exciting to slice into that tomato that I had watched grow for all that time and take juicy, delicious bite.

Only then, it seemed like the garden hit a wall. The tomato plants stopped bearing fruit, the squash vines seemed to stagnate, the corn stalks gave us MAYBE two good ears. And I started to get discouraged.

“This dirt’s no good,” I told myself. “I’m gonna have to wait till next year and start over. I’m gonna do it right this time, with lots of fertilizer. But this crop?  It’s done for.”

So I stopped checking the garden every day, stopped watering in the mornings and evenings, stopped thinking about anything but the next year.

And then my wife came to me one day and said, “Have you seen the garden lately?”

And of course I hadn’t, so she dragged me outside, and lo and behold the squash vine had started to take over the whole garden. And not only that, but my tomato plants had started to perk up a little too. And on top of all that, there was another tomato plant in a section of the garden where I hadn’t planted anything, happily growing up thick and green without any help from me at all.

And it was then that I realized that I had been looking at the garden wrong the whole time. See, I thought it was me making all this stuff happen. My water, my dirt, my fertilizer. Without me those pathetic little plants didn’t have a chance.

But then I thought of the verse in the Bible that says something to the effect of, “I planted, another watered, but God gave the increase.”

And I don’t think it applies to just gardens. There are times in our lives when we do everything right, and everything seems to go wrong. And there are times when we’ve all but given up, and suddenly some new blessing appears out of nowhere.

I think writers are in just about as good a position as anyone to understand this principle. It’s easy to get frustrated when we’ve worked so hard getting things right, and someone else who seems like they haven’t put in nearly as much work, rockets to the top of the readerboards.

The truth is, it’s not because the system is unfair, or because anyone is out to get us. The truth is that we simply don’t have nearly as much control as we’d like to think we do.

It’s not an excuse to give up. It’s just a simple fact of life. We can work and struggle as much as we want to get to the top of the pile, but in the end, it’s God who gives the increase.

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14 responses to “The Gardener’s Guide to Life

  1. Author Kristen Lamb

    Actually sometimes our meddling is what keep the increase from happening. I find that “Letting go and letting God” is one of the hardest things to do. It is tough to take my friends and family off the potter’s wheel. It is tough to admit that there is only so much I can do in life, love, parenting and writing. But, when we can get in a habit of letting go…that is when God can show you what He can do…and it is always way better, LOL.

    Great post and thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for the word of encouragement Kristen. It does me good to read people like you and Bob Mayer who have succeeded in some capacity and are out there telling us that with hard work and patience we can do it too. You’re a real blessing.

  2. on the ball (chair)

    We are trying so hard to improve our schoolyard and our students’ appreciation of nature and some of them keep vandalising our baby trees and disrespecting the whole idea. Your story today helps with the frustration and anger. Be guided by a control bigger and better than we are. Thank you.

    • Oh dear, do I ever have experience with children and teenagers causing frustration through their disrespect. Every Friday night I have to deal with a deluge of teens dropped off by their parents who have nothing better to do than hang out and cause trouble in the store where I work. The only thing I can tell you is to try to be patient and don’t let them overwhelm you. If you let those feelings of frustration simmer for too long it can cause a lot of problems for you. Believe me, I speak from experience.

  3. Great post.
    When I started reading it my mind took me in a whole different direction than where the post ended up. I think that’s a reflection of where I am in my writing journey. See, I’ve been reading a whole lot about how to write, rather than doing any actual writing. So when I read about your garden I thought more about how it was time for me to stop trying so hard to learn and to let go and do for a change. As in, my writing will bloom if I will stop trying to control how it’s done. For me it’s: God planted, others watered, it’s time for me to let it increase.
    Good luck with the garden! I live in the north so am at that waiting, waiting, waiting stage for the fruit to ripen. I picked my first squash yesterday though and will have a cucumber ready in a few days. Very exciting. Gardens are a miracle to me. You plant a small seed and a few months later you have food. Awe and wonder.

    • Well it’s true you’ll never win if you don’t get in the game. But once you’re there it can get discouraging when things don’t seem to go your way. The best advice I can give anyone is just to keep going. The long run is the only real way to succeed.

  4. We have a gardening writer here in Texas named Neil Sperry. He talks about rabbits in the garden. He says, when you get rabbits you can do one of three things: install stout wire fencing sunken three feet into the earth around the garden, put out bait which reeks of predators to discourage the rabbits, or invite them in for coffee and explain carefully how important your garden is to you and would they mind passing you by. He says each of these methods is equally effective.

    You’re exactly right. Sometimes you have to let it go. You did your part. What happens next is just what happens. It’s better to write yet another hard-to-sell book than to be the next John Kennedy Toole. Move on.

  5. I read most of your posts….. have to admit that some get by me, when I’m crazy-busy, but this (in my opinion) has got to be one of your all-time best! It is so true that most of us work so hard at something, only to not receive the intended end result, but if we “let go and let God”, or at least realize that God is behind it all, we may be more pleasantly surprised than we could have ever imagined.

    Also like how you didn’t make this all about writing; it’s a principle about life.

    Keep up the great work… it’s always a pleasure reading your words!

  6. I like how you put this, Al. So much is out of our control. Great post!

  7. I try to keep this thought in mind with people.

    Sometimes we lend an ear, shoulder, or hand to someone. After, we don’t see results. They’re still sad. Or they seem ungrateful.

    But the seed has been planted. You never know what effect you may have had. Sometimes you end up finding out how that seed you planted later grew into something amazing. Other times you may never know…it seems that happens more often than not. You just can’t let that stop you from planting the seed, and trusting that the rest will be taken care of – not always in the way you expect, but taken care of nonetheless.

    Really nice post.

  8. Albert, this was a wonderful post. Yep, no control is right. And it’s hard. Reeeaallly hard. And I get it both with garden and writing. (My parents struggle with it all the time in the garden aspect….) But when it does work out all right, and God does give that increase, you really feel it.

    I’ll repeat again. Really wonderful post. 🙂

  9. Marilag Lubag

    Letting go is the hardest thing we’ll ever do. However, if we prepared to the best of our abilities, we have no choice but to “let go and let God”, just like your garden. Is this also a metaphor for your new book? 🙂

  10. I must remember this when I hit another wall! I get so frustrated sometimes and try to force things. Yet, I’ve had the same experience as you with my garden. When I let go a little, things start to happen. There must be a fancy term for it…focused ignoring or something. LOL

  11. Pingback: The earth tends me | Madeline Scribes

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