Photo credit: Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash
So many negative things have been written about the year 2020 that there is no need to rehash them or review them here. As a child closes their eyes and imagines that they have disappeared, so too we want to close our eyes and make the dingy wrongs and muddy ills tracked all through our lives and plans in 2020 to simply vanish away with the waving of a hand and the magic phrase, “New Year”.
I admit that I also enter this new year of 2021 with a sigh of relief thinking that 2021 is bound to be better than 2020….or at least different from 2020. And anything different must be good….Right!?
While I don’t have any assurances that 2021 will be either different or better than 2020 in many aspects, I am probably not alone in my thankfulness to have a chance at a fresh start. There is something magical about the fresh whiteness of a new year – like that of a freshly fallen snow or a freshly turned page in a blank notebook. There seems to be such tremendous power in the potential for newness in that space – clean and pure – where no black marks have yet marred the landscape.
But as I take my first steps into this new year, I am keenly aware that I am bringing myself with me and all the baggage I was carrying throughout the year of 2020. It is not as easy to lay down as I had hoped upon crossing the threshold. I toss my heavy burden down on the ground in disgust – what am I dragging into the new year that feels so heavy? Why can’t I just let it go so that I can enter that newness of time without the ruts of the past following me onto this new white canvas of life in 2021?
When I look into the bag, at first, all I see are those two looming zeroes from 2020’s name. Zero. Zero. Those two zeros in 2020 convey a picture of exponential loss and emptiness. They represent loss at so many levels – the loss of fellowship, the loss of hospitality, the void of hugs and in person social interactions, the stillness of our schedules, the lonely spaces in our days stretching out before us interminably, and wondering when we can take back our lives again. When can we make plans and follow through with them?
But as I focused on those two zeroes, I suddenly saw something different.
What if those two zeros were pictures not of just loss and emptiness, but rather pictures of space waiting to be redeemed. Space created from my emptied calendar so marked with ceaseless busyness as I pile one thing on top another. Space created by my stillness and inability to move and plan and make “things” happen. Space to back up and examine myself and see my lack of control over my life and the lurking fear of insignificance. Space to see how I have let my default patterns in life get between me and the source of all Life. Space to see things that have kept me too busy to listen to God.
I suddenly saw those double zeros not as double negatives, but as new lenses through which I can see what are the really important things that need to be on my calendar and what needs to be “uprooted” from my heart in order to allow God’s life to flourish there.
Through the slowing stillness of 2020, I saw my own glaring inadequacy standing out in stark relief and I see the weeds growing in my heart’s garden choking out the flowers of life and peace I want to be there. Weeds of seeking control, walking in unbelief, prioritizing self-protection, thinking critical thoughts of others, avoiding difficult situations or relationships, acting thoughtlessly toward others and assuming I can do things in my own strength without asking God for His help and wisdom.
Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to plant and a time to uproot.
Hosea 10:12-13 says, “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 upon you.”
“…for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers His righteousness upon you.”
I realize that God is the one I am making room for in the garden of my heart. He is both the Gardener and the One to whom the garden belongs. When I make room for Him in my heart and my calendar, then He promises to send His Spirit to oversee the weeding that needs to take place day by day.
The first thing Hosea actually says to do is not to focus on weeding, but “sowing righteousness”. When I focus on sowing His word of Truth into my life and sowing time in His presence and listening to His voice first instead of trying to pacify a hundred other voices clamoring for my attention, then there is space for Him to send His Spirit to do the weeding that needs to be done. For He is both the expert Gardener and the One to whom the garden belongs.
The second thing Hosea says in that passage is to “reap the fruit of unfailing love”. Wow. This is a beautiful word. What does that even look like in practical terms? What it does feel like to be loved with an “unfailing love” no matter how many ugly weeds are in our hearts’ garden or how many mess-ups and failures we have trailing behind us like a dark shadow? What would be the fruit of such a love? In a word, “freedom”. Freedom from fear as we entrust ourselves to the Gardener our souls.
Uprooting weeds and pruning back trees can look (and feel!) destructive when it is first done leaving gaping holes and jarring empty spaces in our lives, but when we know that we are held by an “unfailing love” to see the process through to its beautifying end. We can say with Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
And this is how we “break up the unplowed ground in our hearts”. We offer the garden of our hearts (our time, our attention, our focus, our desires, our affection) to Him yielded to His Spirit’s pruning and cultivating work. We don’t harden our hearts in rebellion or pull back from His touch in distrust.
We will for His will to be accomplished in us. We lay our lives on the altar as a “living sacrifice” for Him to do with as He wills. And we can only do this if we have first reaped the fruits of His “unfailing love”. The garden of our hearts can only truly become a welcoming and holy place for Him to dwell when we remain in loving relationship with Him yielded to His purposes, listening for His voice and submitting to His direction.
When we make space for Him, we may be surprised at how quickly we notice the new fruit growing in our garden. By His grace, He transforms us from the inside out and we discover we are set free. His Spirit empowers me to live the life He designed uniquely for me.
So, in this new year of 2021, I am asking Him to come in and make all things new – to come and uproot the old cycles of thought and action that have kept me imprisoned for far too long. I want to live this year intentionally making space for the Gardener to take charge of His garden again and make the changes He sees fit. And as I look on the horizon, I know changes are coming… But I trust that He knows what needs to be planted and what needs to be uprooted. He doesn’t promise an easy road, but he does promise that I will never walk alone when I entrust myself to Him. And at the end of all things, may I have a heart that welcomes others to sit a spell in the shade of a garden grown by grace and invite them to reap the fruit of His unfailing love… as the Master Gardener is tending my garden day by day.