thoughts on new growth and heart-soil

Yesterday afternoon the girls and I spent gardening in the front yard, re-potting succulent babies, and topping concrete containers with rich black soil. I had afternoon sun on my back, and dirt under my fingernails as I scooped the damp soil up with my hands, and patted it down around green and growing things. 

I have a little succulent collection that sits by my front door, reminding me to tend them, water them and sprouting wiry stalks and thick spindly leaves. One of these leaves dropped off, unnoticed, until discovered, probably a couple of months later by my eldest daughter. 
The fallen leaf had begun to sprout and create it’s very own plant, and as it’s roots went deeper, the leaf itself had begun to wither. 
Fascinated when I told her the clever ways of these succulents, Eden watched YouTube videos on propagation and began her own little collection. She gently pulled leaves from a variety of plants, laid them out on top of some soil, and has faithfully watered her babies every day. 
The picked-off fronds are beginning to grow new tiny leaves, and send down thread-thin roots all the while beginning to wither themselves. New life, “touched by a tiny bit of death”*

It reminds me of my own growth; that internal change. If I slow down enough, and get close enough, I can see the tiny tiny shoots of newness. But what must die alongside the growth?
What must be done under the cover of rich, dark soil in the depths of my soul?

So much in our world is focused on the outward appearances. 
Our streamlined Instagram accounts, manicured nails, clickbait titles, and marketing campaigns. Everything designed to wow us into comparison, and the facade of perfection. 
In the upside down kingdom of God, what matters is not the outward appearance. 
Jesus’s focus was, and will always be, the condition of our hearts. 
He wants to know if our roots are strong, if the soil is right for the growing, and if, deep down there in the centre of it, there is a home there for Him.
None of which is visible to the human eye. 

We can chase perfection, to the detriment of our souls, or we can choose to remove ourselves from the harried and breathless pace of the world, and breathe in slow.
We can choose to stop worrying about what we look like, and start to focus on what we are like.
I can look good, or I can choose the fruit of goodness. 
I can have a ‘lovely home’ or I can truly spend my days loving others. 
I can fret about what other people think, or I can rest in the true peace that comes from placing far more weight on the opinion of the God who loves me unconditionally.  

When we stop and slow – thrust our hands into the dirt, our toes into beach sand, or our nose into a book – we can start to tend lovingly the new growth in hidden places, and place more emphasis on what is beneath the surface, rather than what is visible. Matthew 13 speaks to us about the soil of our hearts. 

Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

Jesus I pray that those reading Your Word today would have tended the soil of their hearts well. That You would help us to focus more on your invisible kingdom, on goodness and faith – and let those things in us that need to die, to wither away to make more room for Your growth. Help us to embrace slow, to breathe in time with Your heartbeat, instead of rushing along in the pace set by the world around us. Give us eyes to see the invisible. Amen.
 

 

*Henri Nouwen

  

beauty for ashes

On Wednesday I sat in the lounge room of a friend I’ve known for almost 20 years. 
She made me coffee, the same way she used to when we were teenagers and although we’ve not seen much of each other over the last handful of years, we were not strangers. 
Reflecting with her on the last two decades of our lives was the greatest gift, but I’ll be real; hindsight can be my greatest burden. Regret soaks into my skin like humid, stifling air. 
I wanted to grab my 17 year old self by the shoulders and shake her until her teeth rattled. 
I wanted to shout at her to dream bigger, and think further!
Sometimes the ache to go back and do things differently is overwhelming. 

And it’s easy to feel stuck with the choices that we made when we were younger, or be continually affected by the past. 
It reminded me of a line in the midst of the Imposition of Ashes; In the midst of life we are in death. 
Dust we are and to dust we shall return.
Life moves so quickly. It makes me dizzy and nauseous. 
It seems just yesterday this best friend and I were listening to Jewel, writing poetry and going to parties. Now, we’re child wrangling, and walking through the beautiful messes of marriage. 
The things we find the most difficult now, were once our hearts greatest desire. This kind of perspective, and wisdom comes from the relentlessness of time. 

And while I know time marches on, and doesn’t still I can be still in it’s midst. 
And when I’m still I begin to realise that the unquenching thirst for what could have been, is really a thirst to know God. 
That the insatiable hunger for the life I once pictured, is actually pointing to an empty place only He can fill. 
And while I am here, trapped in this thing called time, I can slow my soul enough to cease the hustle, forget what lies behind and keep my eyes fixed on what is ahead.

Over this Lent season I want to create in my life a rhythm of depth and slower pace. 
That my focus would be less on doing, and more on seeing, really seeing.
That I would see my shortfalls, and failures and acknowledge my need for Jesus. 
My heart would desire prayer, not platform. Spiritual disciplines would follow the natural ones. 

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. Isaiah 61:3

I believe the Master Craftsman of our lives creates beauty from our grief, from our regrets, from our failure. 
Then He gives us insight to walk the next steps of our journey well, if we stop still enough to listen. 

Lord I pray for those who have lived with regret, and declare their time of mourning over. Crown them with beauty and with joy. Help us to slow our hurried souls and remove the clutter in our hearts and minds, to see clearly and to hear Your voice in the midst of our every day. Help us to embrace slow in a world that scorns it. Amen.

My friend Amanda and I are writing one piece each per week over the season of Lent, to position our hearts towards an embracing of slower living, and spiritual growth. You can read her first post here.  xx