by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
A few years ago, when Presvytera and I lived in Arizona, we moved into a house whose backyard had a conspicuously bare patch of ground. Nothing ever grew there.
The Arizona desert is famous for illustrating every imaginable shade of brown. So, as I began to make good use of our back yard for grilling and entertaining guests, it wasn’t long before I was longing to see some color on that bare patch of desert soil.
One spring-like, early December day, I was in our local hardware store, having a gander at all the nifty garden stuff, when I happened upon a rotating rack full of seed packs. There, taking up a prominent section of the rack, were packs of Assorted Desert Wildflowers. I was immediately inspired to purchase a couple of seed-packs and some compost to mix in with the soil and went home to urgently deposit my newfound treasure into the ground. After all the soil-prep and planting, I also generously watered everything down. Every day thereafter, I went outside and watered. With all this loving care, I hoped that I’d get at least a few little green sprouts within a week. But alas, these obstinate seeds proved to be somewhat resolute to remain in their dormant state. Continuing on with my daily discipline of care, I continued to water this patch of land each day, on through a second week…and then a third week rolled by, still without a single little sprout to show for all my focused attention. Around the fourth week, I began to wonder if I must’ve purchased a bunch of defective seeds…duds that would never go off. Or, maybe there was just something sour in the soil, making it unreceptive to the benefit of the compost-nutrients I had put there. Whatever it was…it simply wasn’t working the way it was supposed to.
So, I stopped watering that old dirt patch and moved on to devote my attentions to other things. Activities at my home parish had become pretty busy anyway, and so I had very limited time to spend in my back yard tending to anything. So, December rolled on by, then January, then February, and then on we were into the first week of March. I just happened to be out, using the smoker in my back yard one Saturday, when I looked over to notice, there in my dirt patch were a few tiny sprouts shooting up from the ground. Hmmm….I wondered, “Did my old seeds finally start to wake up?” A couple of days later, the entire bed of dirt was filled with little green sprouts. I grew excited, hoping I might soon be seeing my long, lost treasure.
Sure enough, within a couple of weeks from those first little green shoots, my brown dirt-patch had become a garden full of all kinds of color. And it suddenly dawned on me, that those thousands of seeds that I planted and fertilized and watered hadn’t grown at first, not because they were duds, and not because there was a problem with the soil. I had planted good seeds and had done exactly what was needed to make those seeds’ birth an abounding one. They simply needed to come into their own season. December wasn’t the right season for desert wildflowers to sprout. March was their season. And then I began to experience a sense of awe, because I realized that those seeds hiding there all that time, no larger than little flecks of pepper, held within them an immense mystery of dynamic power, waiting to explode with beauty when their time was right. They held to their promise…when the time was right. What a wondrous blessing!
We’re coming upon the fourth Sunday of Lent, when the Epistle Reading is Hebrews 6:13-20. Here, Saint Paul is writing to Hebrew (Jewish) followers of Jesus who were facing hardship and persecution because of their Christian faith. These hardships were tempting some to abandon Christ and return to Judaism. So, Paul urged them to persevere by putting their focus on the immense mystery and the dynamic power hidden within Jesus Christ and the promises provided through Him. Paul wants to instill in them biblical hope…not just a positive, cheerful disposition…but a steady attitude of joy based on the promises of God, who has always been faithful in His promises. So, this Epistle Reading tells us about a promise that God made to Abraham and of Abraham’s hopeful patience in waiting for that promise to burst forth into beauty. What was this promise? Well, God had promised to multiply the seed of Abraham...in other words, to give him a whole bunch of children (and grandchildren & great grandchildren, etc.). However, Abraham hadn’t been able to father any children with his wife Sarah because she was barren. It wasn’t until twenty-five years later, when Abraham was old and the barren Sarah conceived a child named, Isaac, when Abraham first cast his eyes upon that little sprout. Abraham waited patiently, hoping in God’s faithful promise. And God was faithful in fulfilling His promise.
Can you imagine hearing a promise from God, and then waiting 25 years? 10 years, 1 year, 1 month, 1 day? Compared to Abraham, everything we do today gives us instant gratification. There are no mysteries anymore when one carries around a smartphone. Just about any information I want can be given to me instantly. We can even talk to someone around the world instantly. Unfortunately, it trains us to have a lack of patience.
So, how do we learn to have patience? First, we have to realize that patience is a gift from God. It’s not a human achievement. Saint Paul tells us elsewhere that it’s actually a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Patience is found in the learning process, discovering that God is faithful in fulfilling His promises to us in the midst of our suffering. Unfortunately, some people are under the delusion that their suffering is a sure sign that God is not being faithful in His promises. But God never promised us that if we followed Him we would not suffer. In fact, He said quite the opposite to His disciples. The French philosopher, Simone Weil, summed it up nicely when she said, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.”
Which leads us to the second point, that patience comes by enduring suffering. We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces patient perseverance (Romans 5:3). So, the next time we find ourselves facing frustration and suffering, whether great or small, we should try to remember to say, “Glory to God. Thank you, Lord, for another opportunity to learn patience.”
You may, however, find yourself being more like I was, waiting for my garden of desert flowers and giving up on them in frustration. What we discover though along the way, if we dare to pay attention in life, is that the power of God’s promises sometimes lie dormant underneath everything, and whether or not we’re there diligently attending to our garden, they’ll eventually find their way to the top when they come to their due season.
God was faithful in His promise to Abraham when it was the right season. God was faithful to Moses in His promise to rescue the Israelites from slavery when it was the right season. God promised to send a Messiah (an Anointed One) to conquer death by death and fulfilled it, when it was the right season. God has promised to bring us into unity with Him through that Anointed One, His Son…and He is also faithful to fulfil that promise when it’s the right season.
Since it’s impossible for any promise of God to prove false, we have this strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. That’s a hope to which we can fasten our very souls, because, Jesus went ahead of us through all the same suffering…and even death…showing us the beautiful garden of resurrection on the other side.