The parable of the distracted soil


Today I was out working in my garden. It’s a patch, really. What started as a 10 x 12 foot tilled spot at the back of the yard has shrunk inwards around the half a dozen surviving tomato, pepper, and basil plants. The yard clearly wants its space back.

When I planted, I was imagining this garden as a cute project for my toddler and I to work on together. We would both be out there in sun hats and clogs, peacefully digging in the moist earth and discovering ripe vegetables as they came in. She would help me weed, maybe, or she would hold the trowel for me, or she would just play nicely nearby.

Shockingly, none of those things have come to pass. First of all, I’m pregnant now, which means that the effort of going out into the searing, muggy heat to dig in the dirt has fallen somewhat on my list of priorities (just below “-Try to get a shower today”). Secondly, I have found that I actually do not know anything about gardening, and am making all the amateur mistakes (like trying to cook a soup out of some dried sweet corn seeds that I purchased erroneously at a produce stand).  Thirdly, I have discovered that my toddler knows even less about gardening than I do. She disagrees with my theory that weeding should involve picking all the plants except for the ones we planted a few weeks ago. Rather, in her opinion, these are the only plants worth picking, since they are clearly set apart from the others for some purpose.

So every time we’ve gone out to work, we have gotten extremely muddy (from weeding the day after a rain, which is another beginner’s mistake), rather upset with each other (because I want her not to sit down on top of the already fragile sweet pepper plants, while she, conversely, wants to sit on them), and extremely hot.

The plants are not doing well.

But this morning I was out alone, able to get two hours of solid work in because baby and daddy were having an outing together. The weeds are so absolutely bad that I was having to rediscover the plants, basically—to riffle through greenery to find where they were, dig with a shovel around them, pull the weeds away, and shake the soil back towards the starving plant in an effort to revive it.

On one occasion, I was going through this process around the base of a sad cherry tomato plant that seemed to be gasping for nutrition. The soil around this plant was sustaining no fewer than four weed varieties, in addition to the shallow roots of the tomato plant. As I dug in with the shovel, cut the weeds off, and then knelt down to free the soil from their roots and pat it back around the plant, a thought popped into my head:

This soil is so… distracted.

The soil in my garden is not able to produce what I want it to produce. It simply has too much going on.

It is unable to invest in the sweet cherry tomatoes that my daughter keeps looking for. It’s tired and overworked and depleted. The fruit is being choked out by the weeds, and all because the soil is playing host to too many plants, and not the right kind of plants.

Naturally, the parable of the sower in Matthew chapter 13 came to mind next. In this parable, a sower sows the same seed on several different areas of ground. In each area, the end result is much different. In one spot, the birds came and devoured the seed, and in another, rocky area, the plants sprang up quickly but weren’t rooted and therefore died.

And in another, the seed fell among thorns. The thorns choked the grain to death.

But in another area, the seeds fell on good soil. Here, it produced grain, by the hundredfold, the sixtyfold, and the thirtyfold.

Later, Jesus explains this parable to his disciples. He tells them that the thorny area of soil represents a person who “hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (22).

In this, I’m reading a terrifying statement from Jesus. It almost sounds like it is possible to be distracted right out of the kingdom of God.

And has there ever been a soil more distracted than we are today—moderately churched, screen addicted, wealth obsessed, and overworked plots of ground that we are?

What about me, personally? I believe that I’ve heard the word and that it has borne fruit in my heart—but is the plant out of danger from the thorns? And since the principle holds true, perhaps the fruit of good works is also under discussion here—could these thorns, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches,” keep me at a steady and disappointing thirtyfold where I could otherwise produce fifty?

All I know is that these thorns sound eerily familiar and formidable in my life. The cares of the world: these are all the legitimate and illegitimate desires and cravings of my heart. Will we make the mortgage? Will this woman like me? Will my pregnancy go as I want it to? Will my daughter sleep tonight? Will my husband disappoint me? Will I get all the honor that I want, and the friendship that I crave, and the activity that keeps me from being bored?

The next meal, the next naptime, the next workout, the next phone call, the next plan, the next click… many of these are facts of life that cannot always be weeded out or eradicated. But can they be pushed away from the root of the plant? Can they be slowly, steadily crowded out in their power by the superior pleasure of knowing Christ and serving him joyfully?

What will win? The fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control—which Christ intends to see popping up in rosy color on our soil? Or will our desire for Christ be dimmed, emasculated, and choked by the world around us?

How does your garden grow?

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