Gardening with God

By Emily Salerno-Oswald

This is the last article for the Troubadour that I will ever write. The first of many lasts as I approach the end of my time at Franciscan. There are so many unknowns from one day to the next, and the list of unknowns seems endless- never mind my future and what I’ll be doing with the rest of my life! There are the questions of how I’ll get to student teaching on time and how to finish my assignments by their deadlines (or at least, close to their deadlines).

There are the questions of what I will teach on a given day and what my role is in the classroom. There are the questions of how I will get enough sleep and how I will allocate my time in between waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. There’s the question of how I will make the most of the time I have left with the friends in college who I love the most.

Besides these questions, there are questions about the future. After I graduate, what will I do? Will I start a job right away, and if so, where will I work? Where will I live? How will I maintain the relationships that I’ve formed in college and that I cherish so deeply?

Finally, there are questions of self-knowledge and knowledge of others. Who am I? Who are you? How can we be the best and truest versions of ourselves?

Can you relate to any of these questions? You don’t have to be a senior to have questions about your life or yourself in which you still seek answers.

These questions are compounded when things don’t go according to our plans. Especially when circumstances come our way that we do not expect and everything feels like a mess, it can be so tempting to cling more tightly to control. It can be difficult not to dig and dig and dig in search of the answers to all of life’s unresolved questions.

If we’re lucky and we don’t try to control everything on our own, we may go to God looking for answers. God keeps everything in order, after all. He directs our paths. He should be able to tell us what to do, right?

Well, in my experience, when I bring my concerns to God, I get one answer over and over again: Surrender. This is not really an “answer” at all, but it is a response. I never hear God say this with my ears and rarely even in my thoughts.

But through what I read, through others who cross my path, and through my utter failures when I try to take everything into my own hands… this response becomes abundantly clear.

Whatever burdens us, whatever weighs heavily on our minds and hearts, we are called to bring it to Him again and again- even when it seems like we’re making literally no progress! Even when it seems like we’re calling out to Him and He’s quiet or it feels like He’s not helping!

Even- or perhaps especially- in those times when He seems farthest away. This falling and getting back up coupled with turning our crosses over to Him each time we get back up is in some mysterious way (that our feebly little human minds can’t and might never understand) how we are sanctified. It’s how He redeems us.

It’s how He brings us back to that state of total dependence upon Him, which we were made for. It’s how He sets us free- in spite of ourselves and in ways we would likely never choose.

I would like to close with a quote from a movie that I love, The Shack. If you’ve never seen this movie, I would highly recommend it. In this scene, the main character, Mac, is tending to a very messy and overgrown garden, while the Holy Spirit tends the soil alongside him. Mac tells the Holy Spirit that he wants to be his own judge of what is good and what is evil in life. In response, the Holy Spirit says to him:

“And there are billions like you. Each determining what you think is good and evil. And when your ‘good’ clashes with your neighbor’s ‘evil’, arguments ensue, wars break out, because… all insist on playing God. You weren’t meant to do any of that… all on your own. This was always meant to be a conversation between friends. What do you think [referencing the garden]?”

Mac replies:“It’s still a mess.”

The Holy Spirit answers (gesturing to the overgrown yet beautiful garden):“Yes, it is, Mac. Wild, wonderful, perfectly in process. This mess is you.”

As I contemplate my uncertain future, I love to think about this scene. Mac thinks he’s been working on the garden, but the Holy Spirit has actually been working on him by moving in his heart.

The same thing often happens to us when we feel like we’re in the middle of a bunch of chaos. Surrender means letting God be God and letting Him do His work in your life and heart. He’s always holding you, and He says you’re “wild, wonderful, and perfectly in progress”.

He thinks you’re beautiful at every step of the way. You’re His creation, and He’s doing a good work in you. Knowing that, how could you and your life be anything but beautiful?

I don’t know what lies ahead for me, but I will take this message and goal of surrender with me as I say farewell to Franciscan. No matter where you are in life right now, I hope you will too.

Romans 8:28- “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”