Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Patient Garlic

            While asparagus (as I said in the last post) is one of the worst garden tasks, planting garlic is one of my favorite.  Maybe it’s because I love garlic so much, and it can be used in so many dishes.  Maybe it’s because organic garlic is nearly a dollar a bulb in the store, and I can easily grow a hundred of them in my own backyard.  Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to grow, almost foolproof.  Or maybe it’s because garlic gets planted in the fall, and so I can go into winter knowing that at least there is something in the garden, and in spring it’s one of the first things to pop up. 

            Garlic is the threshold between the last year and the new year.  This crop that was planted last the previous year is also the first growing crop of next year.  It’s a connection between old and new, an end and a beginning.  The last shall be first and the first shall be last.  This is garlic.
            In my area (zone 5), garlic is best planted in the late fall.  And all I have to do is plant each clove just 1-2 inches deep, 3-4 inches apart.  I plant mine along an edge of next year’s tomato bed because the garlic will be pulled the next summer, just as the tomatoes really get going.
            At the end of a gardening season, I am always a bit relieved and a bit sad.  I am relieved because I am exhausted from a season of gardening and I look forward to a winter’s rest.  I am sick of fighting the bugs and heat and dry weather and animal pests.  I am sick of mosquitoes.  I am so full of tomatoes that I don’t want to look at another one for a long while.  I am tired of blanching beans, beans, and more beans.  And because we spend so much time outdoors in the summer, I start feeling behind in my housework and in the schoolwork with the boys.  So I look forward to hunkering down in the house and getting back on track in those areas.  So in a way, winter is a welcome time.  Plus, it means the holidays are coming up.  The beautiful snow, Christmas music, twinkling lights.  The whole world just feels magical, alive in a different way.  Full of goodness, generosity, and reminders of Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s gifts of salvation and eternal life.  I really do love the different seasons.
            But the end of a gardening season also makes me sad because it means that we are heading into a long, dark, cold time.  Nothing grows outside.  We can’t go out for our daily walks.  It gets dark early.  We have to wear robes and slippers all winter.  I get sick of the stale air in the house and wish that I could open the windows wide.  Once I have my fill of soups and stews, I’m craving fresh, living food again.  And I’m anxious to get my hands into dirt, to work with the soil and feel the moist, cool, fresh air on my face.  I was made to work in the garden.  It’s where I feel closest to God and where I am most comforted, feeling like things are going to turn out okay. 
            But here in the Midwest, we have to go through about 5 months of cold, frozen, lifelessness before I get the chance to get out in the fresh air again and dig deep into the soil with my bare hands, kneeling in dirt.  And then it’s another month or so before I get to kick off my sandals and set my feet down into the cool, soft grass.  Living the way we were meant to live.  5 months is just too long. 
            (And this year, it’s been longer than ever, with all the snow.  So much snow!  And so, even though it’s almost March, I decided to put the Christmas music on again and help the boys make Christmas cookies, for us and the neighbors.  Hey, if you can’t beat winter, may as well celebrate it . . . again . . . with Christmas lights, Elvis singing If Every Day Was Like Christmas, and peanut butter cookies topped with chocolate.  Makes it a little easier to accept all the snow!)
            But the thing that always makes me smile during the winter when I think about the garden is knowing that there are dozens and dozens of garlic cloves nestled in the soil, under 2 feet of snow, waiting to be woken up when the weather warms again.  The hour or so that I spent planting at the very end of last season will come to life as this gardening year begins.  And all I have to do is wait for it.  Wait through the long, dark, empty winter.  Wait for the world to thaw, for God to roll in the warmth and life and fresh newness.  I can’t rush it.  I can’t make it happen any faster than God allows it to go.  All I can do is wait on Him.
            I am in that same place in my spiritual life right now.  For some reason, God has seemed very silent to me for a while.  I go through times when my spiritual life feels alive and growing and vibrant, and I go through times when it feels quiet and “on pause.”  Like God just isn’t talking to me right now or bringing any fresh inspiration.  And these times always last longer than I want them to.  Like a long, dark winter. 
            But I can’t make Him go any faster than He wants to go.  I can’t make Him breathe fresh, new life into my spirit when He has allowed me to go into a “winter’s resting time.”  Like the garlic clove nestled in the soil waiting for the thaw, all I can do is nestle into Him and wait for Him to move. 
            One thing I am learning over these almost 30 years of being a Christian is that these times are normal, necessary, and regular.  I used to panic when it felt like God was far away, like He was hidden and not talking to me.  I would try and try different ways to get myself out of that time of “pause” and to get Him to notice me.  Praying better and harder, pleading with Him, wondering what I’ve done wrong, serving better.  Anything to make Him happy with me again. 
            But I’ve come to understand that it’s not that He’s unhappy with me.  (Unless He is unhappy with me and I need to examine my heart and find out why.)  It’s just that these times are normal, part of how God works in our lives.  The Israelites wandered the desert for forty years.  Joseph unjustly spent years in captivity and in prison.  God let Moses spend forty years growing up in the desert, far away from the affluent, powerful life he had in Egypt.  Abraham had to wait 25 years for God to fulfill His promise that he and Sarah would have a son.  And we on earth right now are currently waiting for Jesus to come back again and fulfill His promise to return and take us with Him.
            Waiting is a part of the spiritual journey.  God’s silence and delay and apparent “absences” are part of the process of growing us spiritually.  And the thing to do during those times is not to freak out and try to force God to notice us or to speak to us.  Of course, we should take some time to examine our hearts to see if we have hardened them in any way, making us unable to hear the Lord or sense the Holy Spirit, or to find out if we have wandered away from Him. 
            But if you have done that and have found nothing blocking your communication with God, then fall back into Him and learn to rest quietly in His presence.  Get deep into His Word and find Him there.  And even if you don’t feel like He is talking to you, keep talking to Him about all your fears, doubts, concerns, thoughts, and feelings.  Ask Him for guidance and for His protection, especially from the discouragement and unrest that these times of silence bring.  But mostly, ask Him for His eyes to help you see your situation the way He does, to help you learn what He wants you to learn, to help you know what the next step is, and to search your heart and bring up things you need to deal with.  And use this time of silence to learn to listen to the Spirit’s leading, to learn to be sensitive to God’s whispers.  And absolutely make sure to actively look for and praise God for any hidden blessings you can find.  Keep a running, written list.  It helps keep your spirits up during the dark times. 
            Patience, giving the control over the God, learning to wait and to listen better, humility, learning to trust God’s timing and leading, sifting out any offensive ways in your heart and mind and spirit, discovering any idols in your heart or life, learning contentment, learning to accept when God puts you on the bench, really noticing other people and their struggles and pains and needs, learning to find and be thankful for hidden blessings, and learning to praise God during the hard times.  These are all things that happen during the seemingly empty, lifeless, pointless times of waiting.  So don’t rush it.  Learn from it.
            And I’m saying this to myself as much as everyone else, as I am right now in one of these times.  Instead of fighting it, I am trying to learn to accept these times and to draw closer to God through them, until He chooses to breathe fresh spiritual life in me again.  And I know that I will go through these times again.  They are nothing to fear.  (Unless I have drifted from God, hardened my heart, or somehow quenched the Spirit.  In that case, I very much need to be concerned and to get right with God.) 
            But as I get older, I have these emotionally/spiritually down times regularly, often corresponding with that hard time that comes just after the holidays but before the world thaws again.  And instead of being afraid of them, I’m learning to rest.  Because I know that they won’t last forever. 
            Not only do I look forward to when Jesus returns and God makes all things right so that I never have to feel this emptiness again, but I look forward to the “spring” times of the soul.  Because I know that they will come again, just as spring follows winter.  That garlic won’t sleep forever because God has ordained the seasons.  He has ordered that spring follows winter.  Life and growth follow the barren times, the times of waiting.  But these waiting, barren times are not really empty.  They are necessary times – for us as well as the people of the Bible - of testing and refinement, to get us ready for the growing season.
            And not only that, but did you ever notice how fresh spring feels?  The winter snow and the cold wash away the filthy air, the dust, the pollen, the oppressive heat, and keep the bug population down.  And after this cleansing, the world just feels cleaner, more pure, and more alive.  This is one reason I could never live in a place without the seasons.  Because I would miss that newness, that unparalleled freshness.  And I would miss the joy of starting a new garden all over again for another season.  But it means having to accept the winter,
            And so I wait with anticipation for the snow to melt, for the chance to throw open my windows and let the new air in.  I wait for another chance to get on my hands and knees in the garden and help bring it to life.  And I wait with anticipation for the Spirit to move fresh in my soul again, to fill me with a renewed sense of joy, of life, of Him. 
            And after waiting for so long, those times of spiritual freshness and growth just feel so alive, so refreshing.  And they touch me deep in my soul and fill me with a thankfulness and a joy that I wouldn’t have known if I had never experienced the barren times.  I know it’s coming!  I just know it!  Spring allows follows winter!