By Sharon Gartland

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Nothing delights me more than a beautiful flower garden. When walking my dog through the neighborhood, I like to pause and appreciate the colors and fragrances that come from the yards on my street. One of my favorite stops is the front yard garden of my friend, Gretchen. She always has the most beautiful array of flowers, timed to bloom throughout the growing season, each plant carefully placed and tended to delight the senses. My front yard has flowers too, but it is a little more haphazard and overgrown. My garden plot is fertile and full of blooms, but lacks adequate organization and intentionality. Some of the plants that grow easily are dominating and disrupting the balance and beauty that I see in other yards. Let’s just say it won’t be on the neighborhood garden tour any time soon. The difference between these two gardens is that one of them is being cultivated and grown by a master gardener. Gretchen is trained to know what she is doing and brings all that gardening wisdom to the task of tending her front yard. The result is a visual and olfactory gift to the neighborhood.

I want my life to be like a garden that causes people to stop and wonder about the master gardener who designed and nurtured something so delightful. I want my own master gardener directing which plants stay and which plants go, knowing just the right amount of care required for each to flourish.

However, I think my life is more accurately depicted by the fecund unruliness found in my own front yard. I am once again reminded that I need Jesus to bring his wisdom to the task of designing my life. Left to my own limitations, I tend to let too much take root in my garden, afraid to remove some plants and unsure how to fully support the growth of the ones I desire to thrive. My prayer of late has been “Jesus, be my master gardener!”

When Mary Magdalene went to visit the garden tomb of Jesus, she encountered someone she thought was a gardener standing outside the now empty tomb:

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). John 20:14-16

Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus, her beloved teacher, as soon as he called her by name. In her frantic distress and confusion, she had assumed Jesus was an ordinary gardener, making her job of anointing the body more difficult. But the risen Jesus, by speaking her name, had begun the process of transforming Mary from confusion and grief into one with a life of profound beauty and purpose. She laid down her funeral spices and immediately ran to tell the disciples that she had seen the Lord. The Master Gardener was at work, designing Mary’s life into something that pointed others to him.

I wonder how often I have mistaken Jesus for an ordinary gardener, pushing him aside as a hindrance to the work I need to get done. My name, Sharon, literally means “fertile plain,” perhaps given to me as a name that indicated the full life I was to have one day. I am grateful for all the goodness that has sprung up in my life, but am clearly in need of help to properly tend it all. I pray that I have ears to hear Jesus speak my name and attend to his words of wisdom and guidance for my life.

The hardest part for me seems to be “plant removal.” It has become clear that I need to figure out what my showpiece plants are and which ones need to go. My husband and I recently made the painful decision to leave our small church. That clarity and direction came suddenly and unexpectedly, but I recognized the instructions because of my regular cry to Jesus to be my master gardener. If my friend Gretchen came to my yard and pointed her trowel at a plant and said, “This one should come out,” I would do it. She knows what she is talking about much more than I do. Woe to me if I ignore the master gardener in my life after inviting his direction.

What plants are in your garden? Is your garden one that refreshes and blesses your neighbors and points others to God as the gardener? Join me in seeking his masterful direction in our lives and let us know how it’s going!

About the Author

Sharon Gartland, OTD, OTR, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at UW-Madison where her specialty is in developmental disabilities.  She enjoys the combination of teaching, administrative and clinical responsibilities that makes up her job. She is the former national director of Women in the Academy & Professions and continues to participate in the ministry as a volunteer and frequent contributor. She is married to Craig Gartland, a local church pastor and former long-term InterVarsity staff and leader. Together they have four children who are gradually getting launched into the world as functional adults but continue to store a lot of their stuff in the basement. She believes strong prayer practices and a supportive faith community are key to flourishing in career and family life. 

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