I am not a gardener, far from it. I do not have the patience nor the knowledge to make things grow. I do, however, have a fig tree in my backyard planted many years ago by the previous owners. It bears much fruit — fruit the birds relish. This is my first experience of a fig tree up close and personal, and what strikes me about it is how utterly dead it looks in the winter. Not a speck of green, spindly branches — ugly, really. If I had any yard work ambition I would have cut it down our first winter in this house because, not knowing any better, I would have assumed it was wasting the soil.
Thankfully, I lack all motivation for outdoor work and the fig tree remained that winter and the next and the next, and subsequently every spring new life emerged and the birds were fed. (I lack all jam making ambition, too, so the human occupants of the land have not tasted its sweet spoils.) The lesson of the fig tree comes alive every year as I look out my window and think, “dead, dead, dead” and then every spring there comes, “life, life, life.” I know I am forgetting the three barren years of Luke 13, but I am impatient so one season makes me think all is lost. If I had my way, my tree never would have made it three years running with no fruit.
I am quick to throw up my hands, go for the chainsaw and be done with whatever in front of me is taking up space without producing. I am the “you need to go to school” parent when a child’s cold is lingering. I am the “toss it out” partner when the clutter (defined as “not my stuff”) starts to mount. I am the “suck it up, get it done, quit whining” person when someone dares say they need life balance. Fruit must be borne! (Even when I don’t need it and I am not going to eat it.)
Bare branches, fallow seasons, dormancy … aren’t they glimpses of the inevitability of that time when cutting the tree down is the only sensible option? Is this the reason why there is such a frenetic sense of movement, production, relentlessness in our lives? Are we afraid if we stop bearing fruit even for a season someone will tag us dead and cut us down?
I am quick to label dead so much of what God intends to raise up in new life. I am impatient with anything that appears to be wasting the soil. I want immediate results instead of investing the effort to dig and tend. I long for efficiency, expediency, figs available all year long (even if I don’t need them and am not going to eat them).
God, it appears, works differently. God not only calls forth life from the dormant, God calls forth life from the dead. God didn’t look at the world overflowing with sin and death and say, “Cut it down.” God didn’t opt for the efficiency of starting from scratch or simply letting it run its course to destruction. God instead sent Jesus Christ to dig and tend, prune and plant, weed and water and ultimately be cut down in our stead so that even the fruitless might be spared.
Easter is early this year and the fig tree in my backyard has yet to sprout leaves. It looks dead. But I know, after years of observation, that it will soon bear fruit. I know, too, that much of what looks dead God is calling me to tend in order to encourage new life. I know, too, because of Easter, that God has the power to resurrect even those things that have been dead and buried.
In the light of Easter, I am no longer going to be so quick to throw up my hands. Instead I am going to use them to dig in the dirt. I am going to try to enrich the soil rather than declare another is wasting it. I won’t be a master gardener, but maybe, if I am patient with the bare branches, leaves will eventually sprout, and I will meet my risen Master there.
Grace and peace,