In 2009, I moved into an intentional Christian community in West Philly with three other guys. We shared our food, prayed together, ate together, and worked together. We were trying to live simple, spiritual lives in the midst of the excess of the city so that we might better share our time and resources with those in need around us. More often than not, we did alright with that though the guys will tell you that I never woke up for morning prayer. Actually, I still struggle with that to this day.
Oh mornings. Why are you so early?
We lived in a lovely brick rowhouse with a small backyard that contained a single raised bed that mostly housed peas. The house next to us was rented out as an apartment and the backyard was filled with trash, busted up cement, and overgrown weeds. Inspired by the reclamation work that was being done by Circle of Hope’s Urban Farming Team, we got permission from the owner to clean it out and transform it into a 12’ x 12’ garden since the tenants didn’t use it anyway. We worked for a solid month cleaning the yard, building raised beds out of reclaimed wood, transporting the soil from the recycling center at Fairmount Park, and planting our garden. We had great plans of becoming urban farmers who had enough food to share with the people who were in need in our neighborhood. One of our housemates had rigged up a growing station in his room where he had started all of the seeds weeks earlier. We were ready and prepared to see the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor. This was all new to me, but I had seen the harvest that other urban farmers had gathered, and it seemed pretty simple to me.
Step 1. Plant the seeds
Step 2. Water the garden
Step 3. Pull some weeds
Step 4. Notice how fast your garden is growing
Step 5. Show your garden off on Instagram
Step 6. Harvest your vegetables
Step 7. Eat a lot of salads
Step 8. Revel in your dominion over the Earth
Step 9. Preserve the rest in vintage mason jars
Step 10. Repeat next April
I was pretty confident in our gardening abilities. However, after only a few days, we awoke to find that a raccoon had made an absolute mess of our garden and all of our hard work! So we went back to work, building a tall fence with a secure gate and cemented rocks around the exterior that would save our poor garden from the evil raccoon invaders. That masked bandit wouldn’t outsmart us. We were strong, resourceful, and had much bigger brains.
Weeks later, as our garden continued to grow, I looked out my window at our garden-fortress and saw a tiny bird peacefully perched among our cherry tomatoes, and I just had to laugh at the silliness of it all. I had a caged box of nature in my backyard, and was trying as hard as I could to keep the rest of nature away from my nature. As I sat in that climate-controlled room, in that sheltered house, in the middle of an electrified concrete jungle, I was suddenly aware of my desire to dominate the world around me. I wanted to take the disorder and unpredictability of life and stick it in a cage where I can control it. I wanted 73 degrees, brightly lit, quiet, safe, and scheduled all the time when nature had other ideas. Nature decided that winter would never end this year, nature chirped me awake at 5am this morning, nature postponed the Phillies home opener, and nature is making everyone sick at the same time.
The unpredictability of nature reminds us that life is messy sometimes, and it does not take too kindly to our attempts to control it. Babies will cry when you are trying to have a nice dinner, a leaky roof will drain your vacation fund, a loved one will get sick when you are already too busy, and suddenly there are raccoons in your garden. In Luke 12, Jesus warns us not to get too focused on controlling our future that we forget to rely on God for our needs and miss the bounty of life. Sometimes the unpredictability of life is painful, sometimes it is beautiful, and sometimes it manages to be both, but in all things God is sovereign and is the only one who can make our gardens grow.
When we let go of our need to control everything, we open ourselves up to the thrilling surprises of life. Next time you see a bug in your house, don’t kill it. Catch it and look at how complex it is. Take a minute to notice how the insect breathes through holes in its chest instead of its mouth. Imagine what that would be like! Try to notice its tiny legs and allow yourself to be amazed at its impossibly small knees. They are not intruders in your carefully decorated and thoroughly Pinterested living space. This world belongs to them too, and despite all of our best attempts to control nature, it always finds a way to get in and remind us that control is an illusion.
Life finds a way.
So as the flowers start blooming and life returns to the world, I pray that you are overwhelmed, surprised, and jostled out of your comfortably controlled life. May the raccoons, insects, thunderstorms, and pollen remind you that life is messy, inconsiderate, and unpredictable at times while also somehow being beautiful, exciting, and awe-inspiring. I pray that God surprises you in this season of life and brings growth, peace, and unexpected joy to your lives.