from smallest seeds (and smallest years).

I’ve been thinking a lot about death and seeds and growth and rebirth these past few weeks. Perhaps it is because the fall has come, and for a few weeks – the world has been alive with color. Isn’t it a peculiar thing that trees are at their most beautiful when they are dying? On the brink of decay, the leaves in Birmingham are on fire – bright reds and yellows and oranges – and tomorrow, they will die and fall to the ground, crunching under our boots as the skies turn grey and the winter comes (although winter really is a relative term for us in Alabama).

There, in the dead of winter, in the seeming absence of life, seeds that have been planted wait for rebirth. They await for the spring, and the return of warmth, and for rain – they wait for the day when they will burst out of the ground, proclaiming that winter is over and that life abounds – even when it seemed like all had died.

I’m not a farmer, but I come from good gardener-type people. My fondest memories of my childhood involve harvesting crab apples from the crab apple tree in front of my house. My granny and I would slice the apples and lay them out to dry in the hot summer sun. One time, my grandfather and I tried to grown an orange tree (we’re from North Carolina, so obviously it didn’t work). And while I have a black thumb when it comes to gardening (I did murder a succulent earlier this year), I know that growth doesn’t happen overnight. Seeds are placed in the ground, and water comes, and storms, and sunlight…and, there’s lots of waiting.

Waiting is hard. It can be excruciating. Especially when you aren’t really sure if what you have planted will take root. Will the seed spring from the ground as the plant it was purposed to be? Or, will it die underneath the darkness of the soil, all alone, as only the dream of a hope of what it could be?

Perhaps, here, I am talking less of physical seeds and more of spiritual things. Of our own hopes and dreams and ambitions. Even of the hopes that God has planted in our hearts, that we have yet to see come to fruition.

These years have been the years of small things. I’ve been waiting all of my life, it seems, for the big things. For the proposals and marriages and children and buying houses and families and perfect ministry positions.

And, in response, these past few years, God has allowed to be the years of small things.

Now, granted – there have been big things that have happened in these years. And I can see God transforming my heart and working in my life and shaping my character in big ways. But oh, it has been through small things. The routine of life and work and ministry and making a home while you are waiting. And through heartbreak and loss and longing and wondering if I can rejoice with one more friend, as I weep for myself and for the absence of the big things in my own life.

Scripture incorporates the picture of planting and sowing and waiting. Sometimes, I wish waiting weren’t such a prevalent theme woven throughout the Bible. But, it is. Women like Sarah and Hannah and Elizabeth waiting for motherhood. David waiting for the kingdom to be handed to him. The Israelites waiting to be delivered – first from the desert, and then from exiles, and (probably most significantly) from themselves. Crying out for a Redeemer to enter into time and space and history and save them.

And God heard their cries. That’s perhaps one of the most beautiful lines out of the book of Exodus. God hears our cries, and he knows. And he responds in deliverance…in his timing. In timing that we cannot always understand, that might not be on our timetable. He comes and enters into our pain. He brings birth. He gives life. He hands over kingdoms. He restores and redeems and rebuilds, for his glory and for his people’s good – in his timing.

Sometimes I wonder if God waits because the small things are what form our character. It’s the daily routine of work and ministry – sometimes a routine that seems exhausting and other times seems mundane – that has taught me the importance of rest and health and eating well and exercising. It is in obedience to the small things that the Lord is slowing prying my hands off of my own life and desires and dreams and reminding me that he holds all things together.

Two of my current favorite songs help express this picture. In Andrew Peterson’s “The Rain Keeps Falling,” Peterson paints the picture of a man struggling with depression, praying to be released. One verse personifies the struggle as an agricultural act:

My daughter and I put the seeds in the dirt
And every day now we’ve been watching the earth
For a sign that this death will give way to a birth
And the rain keeps falling

Down on the soil where the sorrow is laid
And the secret of life is igniting the grave
And I’m dying to live but I’m learning to wait
And the rain keeps falling

I’m dying to live, but I’m learning to wait. That’s how I feel in these days that seem full of small and insignificant things. Trusting that the Lord is growing something deep within me – obedience – and that from the seeds, growth will spring up, in his timing.

Sandra McCracken’s “From Smallest Seed” pictures that day –

From smallest seed – abundant field
From broken earth, a way revealed
Despite the weeds, the drought, the storm
The sun returns, the earth reborn
The sun returns, the earth reborn 

With empty hands, with nothing great
We enter in, and then we wait
Despite the fear, the heart forlorn
The sun returns, the earth reborn

My heart sometimes feels forlorn. Sometimes, it seems like the metaphorical (and physical) rain will never end. In these days of small things that seem unending, where I struggle with the belief that life will always be like this, and nothing new will ever break through the monotony…we trust that the sun will return…despite the weeds, droughts, and storms. That God is faithful. And that he is working in the small things, for his glory and for our good.

So, in the midst of the watching, and the waiting. The holding of breaths and the sighing when the plant hasn’t yet broken through the earth. The wondering if the seeds took root. The fears that death abounds, and that perhaps this seed too is a yet another victim of such death. The doubt that maybe God doesn’t hear our cries…in the midst of all these things, we know and we trust that he is at work.

We know and we trust that sometimes, it just takes a lot of water and sun and waiting for plants to take root and to break through the deep soil.

And we know and trust that, often, God is using the small things – much more than the big things – to shape us and to make us more like him.

We wait, with empty hands, waiting on smallest seeds in the midst of what seem to be the smallest years. The sun will return.

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