What planting and cultivating a piece of earth can teach us about life

Written by Elizabeth Duarte

Each February, my mom fills boxes with earth and put them in a warm area of the house. The dirt is dark and empty—not unlike the canvas God looked at before creation. Then, she starts to plant. Hundreds of tiny little seeds are covered by a few grains of soil. The tiny green specks push their way upward as if stretching after a long sleep. 

My mother’s excitement over the miracle of life was imprinted upon me anew with every plant. I discovered personal responsibility on that piece of earth where I grew up. We did have grocery stores near us, but my family still tried to produce what we could. 

When we moved to the city, with a postage stamp for a backyard, I learned you can always adapt to limited circumstances by removing things that waste space (like a lawn), replacing them with the things that will work harder and provide genuine nourishment (a veggie garden).

Gardening, like life, is unpredictable. But when plants didn’t get tilled fast enough in the fall and dropped their seeds everywhere, my mom didn’t panic or get upset. Neither did she chop down the fragile little sprouts that popped up where they weren’t supposed to in spring. Instead, she watched them carefully, letting them grow. 

She knew that in the spring those seeds would start to grow immediately when conditions became favourable. Because they’d made their beds in the soil the previous fall, they got a head start on the ones she sowed in the spring. And so, each year, my family eats lettuce and heritage spinach four weeks before the newly planted seeds dare to show their faces. 

My mom taught me not to hastily uproot a plant I didn’t recognize because you never know what God is going to surprise you with amid chaos. This applies to life, not just the garden. Now, when things go awry, I remind myself to slow down, looking for the unplanned blessings meant to provide for me.

Over the years I’ve been prescribed numerous herbs by my doctor due to my ongoing health issues. I’ve had to laugh at the irony of these herbal remedies. Things like dandelion, clover, burdock root, nettles, and milk thistles—all plants my family spent decades trying to kill—have more nutritional value than our vegetables. They are so potent they can be used to treat illness. 

Leave it to God to wrap even our weeds with nutrients and medicine for our well-being.

A garden is a test of faith, resilience, and character. You spend time, labour, and resources with no guarantees of results. Not unlike life. My parents taught me it’s important to plan and dream, but in the end, we don’t get to decide. 

We can plant 50 watermelons, but if we get a week of rain, drought, flooding, or even snowstorms in July, then we’ll get none. We can react in anger or stop gardening entirely. Or we can recognize God is the one in control and instead say thank you for the bumper crop of water-loving peppermint or drought-hardy rhubarb that those unexpected seasons yield instead.

While praise for what comes is important, so is vigilance and discernment. As we keep a careful watch for pea plants that vanish into the soil, so we must watch our lives for harmful things that diminish our focus or ministry. When we find the culprit, no matter how cute they may appear in the beginning (hats off to you, slugs) they must be dealt with. The consequences down the road can be disastrous—a whole summer’s work lost to the unrelenting jaws of a single cutworm.

The world may see the tending of a garden as simple work, remnants of agrarian societies, but God’s command to till the earth comes from a place of wisdom beyond our own. Those who embrace it and get their hands in the soil may find they come away with not just a harvest, but also abundant lessons and wisdom for life.