I finished my last blog post with the question, “What types of things are we planting in our hearts? I want to pick up where the last blog left off (please read the last one if you haven’t already). But first I want to modify the metaphor from farming to gardening since the analogy of gardening refines farming to a more intimate endeavor than planting crops while also expanding the scope of what grows. Gardening can encompass everything from spice (herbs), to sustenance (vegetables / fruit) to beauty (flowers). This analogy helps point us to what we humans really need - a heart that will sustain us, that will bear the fruit of creativity and passion, and happiness. Using the analogy of gardening I want to grapple with the question of what we really want to grow in our hearts and then how we can structure our lives to be environments of growth for these desires.
In the second century, Irenaeus wrote “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” In this blog I will be talking of a lot of things that matter in our hearts. Some might notice that God and church are conspicuously absent from the list. I want to clarify from the beginning that I believe that God is the most important thing in my life. However our ability to experience God and give our religious beliefs an authentic expression in the world is directly tied to the way we take care of our lives. I believe that the things that are most important to each of us, the desires at the core of our beings are a gift from God. To give value to these places is not to devalue God but rather to more fully become the human beings that we were created to be.
The first work in tending the garden of our hearts is to identify what we want to grow. All too often we spend our efforts, our time, and resources focused on things that ultimately don’t matter such as what type of car we will drive, where we will live, how big of a house we will live in, how big of a paycheck we can get, etc. The question of what we want to grow in our heart gets us down to what ultimately matters, what is non-negotiable, what desires reside at our core. If we can get past all of the externals and materialism of our world and get in touch with our hearts for a moment we would find that what really matters to us are the more intangible things of life such as authentic relationships, intimacy, family, living a life that counts, making a difference for good in this world, creativity, etc. Like the fruit and vegetables of gardens, these things will nourish and sustain our souls in both high times and hard times if we tend to them as faithful gardeners.
As the lyric of the song “Nobody Number One” by Over the Rhine says, “You can’t put no band aid on this cancer, like a twenty dollar bill for a topless dancer, you need questions forget about the answers…”
The process of gardening starts with questions, not answers.
The first question we gardeners need to ask is about what we want to plant, which can be posed as the question – “What really matters to me?”
“What really matters to me?” and follow it up with the question, “How have I been living a life that values these things?”
Go ahead, ask.
These are dangerous questions, but not nearly so dangerous as not asking them.
These are risky questions but not nearly as risky as playing it safe while dying a slow death detached from what matters.
When we ask these questions they wake us up because they begin to shed light on how we have not really been valuing what matters in our lives. It is precisely this undervaluing of what matters to us that causes weeds of resentment spring up in our hearts over time.
But be warned, as soon as you begin to ask these questions, denial wrapped in a list of rationalizations will be the first defense to kick in because we don’t want to face the compromise within our own souls.
The mind will quickly retort with,
“I’m a pretty good person!”
“I do a lot of really good things!”
“I work really hard!”
“I’ve invested a lot of my life to get to this point, this status, this place!”
But the question is not about how good you are, or how good you are doing or even how hard you work or how much you’ve invested. The question is “What matters? And how have you lived your life valuing that?”
And the hardened ground is breaking
And weeds are being uprooted
And this is the beginning of gardening.