Today, I talked with my younger son, Ross who’s thirty-five. Over the past year, I’ve watched his growing interest in land and eco systems, specifically the history of types of indigenous trees and plants that grew on my childhood farm, purchased by my great-grandparents in the 1800s. For the first time, Ross has planted twenty different types of seeds of strawberries, lupines, milkweed and others that are now sprouting. He’s learning by experience what it takes for the them to grow to maturity, what conditions make for healthy plants. He wouldn’t see the same development had he jumped over the early stages of seed growth and opted for full-grown plants; they don’t tell the full story of what it takes to grow to maturity.
I’m happy to see his interest in how life progresses from seed to plant to produce; he didn’t grow up on a farm like me. He never counted out the seeds and dropped them into the hole dug by his daddy’s hoe. Ross doesn’t remember the sound of that metal implement striking through the sandy soil of the furrowed row, recently plowed by Daddy on our Farmall tractor.
Now, seeing the white blooms of the Bradford pear trees in central North Carolina, I’m reminded of the pear tree that grew by the edge of our field. I’d get off the school bus and walk the path home near that tree on a cool end-of-winter afternoon. I’d see Daddy on the tractor, doing the first tilling of the soil with a disc harrow hooked to the back of the Farmall, cutting into the top layer of the soil that had been left fallow after the previous crop. Later, Daddy would go over the field a second time with a plow, cutting deeply into the dark earth.
The dirt would smell so fresh and was damp with the rich moisture from beneath the surface. As a girl, I loved to take off my shoes and run barefoot through the cool ground. To this day, that experience is planted deep in my memory as my first understanding of being free.
Once Daddy worked back-and-forth across the field with that plow, rows with deep ridges were formed. Along the ridge, we planted the seeds at the specific depth and interval for that plant to have the required space to grow. There were many things to consider with planting a crop: how to prepare the field, types of seeds to purchase, when to plant depending on if it was a cool or warm weather crop, and what region of the state you were in: Mountains, Piedmont (our region), Coastal Plain.
Since I grew up on a farm, references to agricultural practices have always made sense to me– including those from the Bible that are at the base of my Christian faith. There are many scriptures that speak to how things grow and become metaphors for how things work in a broader sense in our lives–no matter where we grew up.
In one online reference, it notes that there are 47 Bible verses about seeds– including the smallest of all, the mustard seed. Another site from Lifeway women, focused on Cultivating during May in their #PrayersFor2016. This is part of that entry:
“When we think about cultivating, we often think of gardening. We cultivate plants to get them to grow. But we can cultivate all kinds of things in our lives.”
Then there’s a study of the word:
“Cultivate means “to prepare for the raising of crops,” “to protect and encourage the growth of,” “to cause to grow by special attention or by studying, advancing, developing, practicing, or publicizing.” Part of the second definition speaks volumes: “to improve by labor, care, or study.”
We don’t accidentally cultivate. We purposefully cultivate.”
In one week, it’ll be the first day of Spring. It’s a promising time as we anticipate the eruption of new growth, the return of buds to the trees, the smell of freshly turned earth as we drive past a farmer’s field. Besides these references to trees and plants, I like to think about the other type of cultivating that happens in the soil of our hearts. I agree with the statement from Lifeway woman that we can “cultivate all kinds of things in our lives.”
For everyone, there are relationships with other people that need to be cultivated. Whether it’s with a child, grandchild, spouse, partner, sibling, friend or some other meaningful relationship, all the things that apply to nurturing a plant– apply to relationships between people.
When I think of how Daddy prepared our fields for planting those seeds, dirt had to be broken up so that the soil was aerated, weeds and debris were removed, and new furrows were established for the new crop. Things could not remain the same in order for growth in a new crop year; change had to take place. Sometimes when we’re focusing on a relationship, things have to change from how they were previously to allow for the new to have the space to emerge.
When I think of how Ross chose to plant seeds rather than starting with a small plant, it’s like what may be needed in relationships; sometimes we have to go back to the old-fashioned, slow way of growing. This will help us to pay closer attention to the details of the relationship; it will give more depth and space for development.
Skilled gardeners go about their work with purpose; they cultivate their bountiful crop through improving by “labor, care, or study.” Relationships require all the same things. When we try to take short cuts, look for an easy way, or we lose interest and stop paying attention– we don’t get the bountiful crop, the end result we desire. It takes being purposeful and sticking to our course for the full crop year.
As we look toward Spring, toward the crop we want to plant, the relationships we want to develop, I hope we’ll all be patient with the tender care of a Master Gardener.
In the long run, it’ll be worth the time and energy that we invest, producing a yield that is pleasing.