Sunday, the 16th of July, while reading the parable of the sower (Matt13:1-23) in preparation for celebrating Holy Mass, I was all set to go the usual track of thinking which type of soil I was. That was always my response to these verses. Just as often, I would conclude that perhaps there was something in me of each of the three types that Jesus described. Today however, a little thought persists instead: I wanted to believe that I was not as cut-and dried, as categorically three-in-one. Yes I was a bit of all three, but I had to be something else besides, and so what was that?
What a question! What a reflection, not just to choose from one of three types, but to think and reflect further! Given whatever I knew about gardening and botany and agriculture and myself too, I wanted to use and stretch the parable to really describe myself as seedbed for God’s word.
I had time that morning, and so I tried.
Using the process of elimination, I figured I wasn’t the sandy-soil type. Whenever I encountered God’s word, or anything in my life that could be interpreted as an experience of God’s word, I listened, I held the insight, and in the afterwards, I did remember. The other extreme didn’t represent me either. I was not like clay; when it came to my faith life, I was not the obstinate, hard-headed type. Not anymore anyway – there was a time in my other life when I disobeyed, simply because there was a rule – those days are long gone. And so, I had to be like loam, receptive enough, attentive enough, retentive enough. Off to a good start, I told myself, so I moved along.
I knew loam to be the best kind of soil for many kinds of seed. Hmmm, was it presumptuous of me, after all, to liken myself to the best kind? Did I have what it took to produce “a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold” in the Lord’s vineyard? I figured that for me, “minerals and substances“ would be my characteristics as an individual: my personality, my habits and attitudes, my values, beliefs and aspirations … all the things that determined the way I lived my Christian life. After all, what and who I was as a person would be the determinants of how the seeds that God planted in me would grow.
The answer had to be mixed, at best. I have many characteristics that do promote life and growth as a disciple of Christ. I DO love the Lord! I consider it my life’s mission to go to heaven when I die. I work hard to please the Lord while I’m alive. I make an effort to do well by his people, to serve, to be kind, to love better, to forgive, to help. I consider myself his arms and hands here on earth; his soldier; his worker; his servant. In my circumstances, I choose joy and happiness and the higher ground.
But I couldn’t, in conscience, make those descriptions my laurels and thus rest. As much as those pluses and strengths, I must admit that there are darker aspects of myself. I’m lazy. From my youth, I’ve had to actively fight the urge to just let things be and let them pass. Making an effort – a phrase which I have adopted as a guiding principle in my life – is as much a desire as a struggle. I see many other faults in myself that stand in the way of growing God’s seeds in my life. I have a tendency to be impatient with and dismissive of people. I have an impulse to judge instead of giving the benefit of the doubt. For various reasons, I am slow to entrust myself to others, whether in fellowship or in friendship. (I realize now that I need to identify those reasons, and in fact they are a mix of shyness and timidity, fear and insecurity, selfishness and unwillingness.) I enjoy my comforts too much, and I’m not always willing to give them up, or even just to postpone them in sacrifice for another person. I can go on, but if I were to make a list, these would be on top.
It’s said that there are two sides to everything. At least, if I might add. Well, here are mine. That, in a nutshell, is me as soil for God as sower. The result: I can claim that the Lord’s seeds are growing in me. I’m grateful to be able to say that. When I look back to any past point in my life, it’s clear to me that I have grown in all the roles I have. Doubtless there have been tough times. Keeping to the parable’s analogy: I have not been spared from strong rains, dry spells, not even from stray dogs that have come to scratch away at the sprouts I’ve been tending. There have even been a few strong storms that have threatened to take everything away! But God is good. Given all these, my trajectory displays an upward movement, despite the dips and slides. Oh yes, I can’t discount backsliding!
Slow by slow, it’s been slow by slow. That’s how I would describe my progress as a grower in God’s service. Knowing myself and how my relationship with the Lord has been, that makes sense. In the thirty-one years I have been in the renewal, the God I have come to know was never the God of lightning and thunder, who caused instantaneous turn-arounds and overnight transformations. He, to me, was always the God of tiny raindrops, of gentle footsteps, of soft breezes. My growth as a Christian is best viewed across a distance, using a wide lens, because it’s made up of rolling lands and gently-flowing waters.
Perhaps, the way the Lord has been in my life is the way He wants me to be for the rest of mine: patient and enduring, constantly making an effort to raise my standards of loving, surely – even if not so steadily – moving towards him, until I see him face to face. It feels so right to think that thought.
In the meantime, using that lens and that perspective, I look back at the garden that my life has been, the garden that in reality, the Father himself has been growing, and I have to smile. I see it, bathed in the soft light of his love, showered by the fine mist of his grace, gently growing in the bountiful breath of his Spirit. Flawed and imperfect as I am, I am grateful, joyful and loved.