As I was weeding this week, my mind went back again to Mark 4 and all its implications. I've done everything I can to supply fertile soil for my onions, peppers, and tomatoes, but the thing about fertile soil is... it makes it easier for ALL things to grow... Whether it's what you planted or not. The constant wind coming off the overgrown empty lot next door turns my garden into a hot bed of intruders. The fertile soil in my raised garden beds doesn't differentiate between bindweed and beefsteaks. I have to do that myself. How does that play in to the parable?
When it comes to creating fertile soil to grow our faith, what is the equivalent of building up garden boxes, hauling in compost, installing drip lines, deer netting, etc? I think creating the fertile soils of mind and heart means being well educated - having the knowledge and the skills necessary to provide the nutrients your plants will need. Fertile soil is open minded- ready to accept plants and nurture them to help them produce fruit. Fertile soil is dedicated- growing things (humans, plants, faith) is a long and slow process. In the past couple years I have watched some beautifully fruitful faith gardens wither away. I was thinking about how the things that made their faith so productive, their educated, dedicated, open minds, were the very things that eventually led to the overgrowth of weeds. New ideas get blown in from popular culture and media and everywhere else. Because your soil is fertile, they shoot up fast and you wonder- what could this be if I let it go? It has disturbed me real deep two separate times now and I wanted answers.
I just finished the most amazing book- Planted by Patrick Mason (remember I blogged about his fireside here?). It is a beautiful explanation of the experience of having a faith crisis. It opened my eyes to the perspective of people who slowly or suddenly find fault with a belief system they've built their lives upon. I can't sing enough praises to this book- if you or someone you love struggles with questions and doubts about doctrinal or cultural or historical issues with the church- I'm begging you to read it. I loved every single part of the book- particularly the section on prophetic fallibility- but there is one quote that comprehensively sums up my feelings on the topic:
"From the remoteness of the printed page, I am severely limited in the empathy I can demonstrate for those who face such difficulties. As a general rule,however, I am saddened when people give up their rich church culture, a culture that they are an integral part of. Those of us who are American don't always like what our elected leaders do in Washington, but not many of us choose to leave the country. We don't always like how our family members act, but we are not going to disown them. We don't always like our coworkers, but we don't usually quit our jobs over that. We don't always like all our teachers or what they teach us, but we typically stay in school until we earn our diploma. In short, we regularly recognize the limitations and flaws in the many institutions of which we are a part, but except in the case of egregious abuses we normally stay and try to make things better rather than washing our hands and walking away.... I don't question for a second that those who leave the church have their reasons, and they may be exceedingly good ones. But I hope if you feel you must step away for a time that you think deeply about your decision, that you have somewhere to go to rather than just flee from, that you remain connected to the good people and godly principles you have encountered in Mormonism, and that you keep the door open to come back someday."
So back to my garden. God's word must grow in fertile soil that's true. But even the most fertile soil must have a gardener as well. Short of the Garden of Eden, fruit producing plants are not going to sprout spontaneously. I've never gone out to my flower beds to weed and surprise! Found a bunch of blueberries. The good stuff in life has to be put there on purpose and nurtured with hard work- so you'll have to decide what's worth it. As you tend your plants, if something new blows in and starts to bloom, something so exciting and different and beautiful that you simply cannot pull it out, consider moving it over a little bit. Perhaps you don't have to choose one or the other- for quite some time even. Maybe let the two plants grow side by side, the one you planted on purpose and this new one. See which fruit is the one you're really seeking. I'm willing to bet when it comes down to harvest time, the wind didn't blow you blackberries. But if it did, won't you be glad to have both.