Guest post from Victoria. You can read more of her story here.
"My garden is my favorite little escape. It’s my 200-square-foot plot of earth where I try to recreate Eden (though I bet they didn’t have mosaic wilt disease until after the Fall) and enjoy all the green things He gave us for food (Gen 1:29). I get a front row seat to the marvel of God’s creation on the tiniest scale; watching a miniscule oregano seed pushing it first leaves out of the heavy soil, reaching toward the sun. And the full-circle experience of praising God for good soil, spring rains, healthy plants, a bountiful harvest, and finally, the meal on our plates.
Chronic pain is not a gardener’s friend. Long mornings spent weeding, pruning, mulching, staking, and harvesting, have turned into small, five-minute bursts of activity followed by long periods of rest. It hurts my heart a little to see the crabgrass encroaching on my baby lettuce and the dandelions firmly entrenched in my strawberry patch this year. But I’m learning to let the little things go; if I want to continue to have a garden, it’s just not going to be perfect. Every day I walk through the growing rows of green beans, snap peas, and Swiss chard, and I crouch down to pull the big weeds I can reach without straining my back (or knees, or shoulders). Then, with all the self-control I can muster, I walk away from the rest, knowing it would be better for my family if I save my back for making dinner, or at least being able to sit up at the dinner table, than to pluck every weed out of my precious soil.
When you live with chronic pain, you learn – you master – the art of compromise.
But let not the same thing be said of your spiritual walk.
I always think about how God weeds out the sins in my life as I pull weeds out of my garden. I’m constantly discovering new parallels between tending my earthly garden, and tending the garden of my soul. The weeds often appear small above the surface, but their roots stretch deep, deep under the vegetable plants and can choke them out before you even think there’s a problem. Weeds can become almost impossible to pull out when you leave them to their own devices for too long. Their roots weave their way into the roots of your tomatoes and peppers, entwining them. You think you can just go dig up one little weed you spot by the fence, but then come to realize that your entire garden has been affected by the neglect of that one invasive plant. Something else I’ve learned… though you have to slough out there in boots and coveralls, the weeds come up the easiest after a good hard storm loosens the soil.
I have learned to tolerate the weeds in my garden because of my chronic pain, but I am also constantly in danger of letting my pain cause me to tolerate my own “small” sins.
If we are patiently listening and seeking to submit ourselves to God’s providence, pain can make us more attuned to God’s will and merciful, sanctifying power. The soil of a humble soul is rich and yields the fruits of the Spirit. But pain has a more dangerous side as well – one I am all too familiar with; with every opportunity to sacrifice my pride and sit at the Savior’s feet during one of my “bad” days, comes the equal – and often more tempting – opportunity to indulge myself through spiritual laziness. It looks like this: “I’m in so much pain, I can get off the hook for snapping at my son”; “If I have to lay on this sofa all day I’m going to watch whatever TV I want”; “My husband should be serving me right now, how dare he ask me to…”
Pain opens the garden of my soul to the seemingly small, but deceitful and invasive, weeds of sin: bitterness, impatience, self-centeredness, idleness, covetousness, malice, slander, and every other sin known to man. The soil which could have been diligently and painstakingly tilled into a rich, live-giving garden, bearing fruit for God, instead becomes infested with weeds and useless for kingdom work. The weeds of sin may appear small on the surface – just a little covetousness, here, and little bitterness there – but their roots entangle themselves in all areas of my life.
How can I stop them? How can I take my focus off of myself and on to God when my life is so controlled by my pain and pain-management? How can I choose the hard road of sanctification, discipline, and ego-crushing humility, when what I really want is to turn on the TV and ignore my children when I’m having a bad day? Well, I’ll tell you one thing for sure: I cannot do it alone or in my own strength. I must turn to the example of the One who is far more familiar with pain, acquainted with loneliness, beset by humiliation, and barraged by misunderstanding than I ever will be. He is not just an inspirational hero - He is the living power I need to cultivate my life into a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. I have to turn for help to the only One who has overcome all His suffering without sin.
When I reflect on the life of Jesus, I am struck by how often I think that my suffering makes me special - that my pain puts me in a category of my own, beyond the understanding of my friends and my family, and (though I barely dare write it) beyond the necessity of sanctification, as though simply bearing the pain is enough to be called godly. I can begin to let myself think that because of my pain all those little weeds in my soul are excusable, or that no one expects me to do any pruning while I’m just trying to make it through the day. Like in my backyard vegetable garden, the pain can make me stop fighting the weeds.
But Jesus faced every temptation this earth has to offer, and He is the only one who is a special case: the Son of God was called a blasphemous traitor; the One who upholds the universe by His power was spat on by men He made of dust; He who knew no sin was nailed to a cross for crimes He did not commit; the Son who enjoyed the eternal love of His Father suffered a slow and agonizing death alone; the holy and worthy Lamb of God suffered all the wrath of all the sin of all the world in order to bring His Father glory and bring us into His fellowship.
Through all this, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found on His lips” (1 Peter 2:22).
Looking full in the face of Jesus makes my pain look very small indeed. And makes the garden of my soul look very crowded with ugly sin.
Our pain is an opportunity to become more like Jesus. Through the worst physical suffering, the uncertainly of chronic illness, and the abandonment (literal or perceived) of family and friends, He can comfort us because He has been there! We bring our pain and suffering to a merciful high priest who “because he himself has suffered when tempted,[…] is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). And more than just comfort us, He can lead us through our pain with his staff and rod, turning us away from the path of spiritual death and onto the path of glory. He can uproot the weeds of sin in our souls.
But my friends, it will hurt. The weeds of sin wrap their roots around our hearts and don’t let go easily. We want our secret sins. We want to indulge ourselves. But to know the peace of God through our pain, we will have to cut off things which tempt us to sin. We will have to deny ourselves in favor of honoring God. We will have to die a little death to self every time we say “no” to sinful thoughts and behaviors, and say instead “yes” to becoming more like Christ.
And this we have to look forward to: the pain of daily digging out the weeds is rewarded by a bountiful, eternal harvest! When we turn to Him in our suffering we come know Him more intimately, love Him more fervently, and worship Him more deeply! The gardens of our souls will flourish with beautiful and abundant fruit in times of pain! As we come to know the joy that results from keeping the gardens of our souls, we can “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us!” (Romans 5:3-5)."