Planting a Spiritual Garden: Three Ways to Help Others Grow in Faith

gardening--people carrying plants

Spring has finally arrived after another harsh winter in Green Bay. As I turn my attention to my garden, I marvel at the hardiness of the tulips I planted before the ground hardened in the fall. Their bright green sprouts remind me that spring is a time for new life and growth.

Helping others cultivate their own spiritual garden is one of the most rewarding aspects of ministry; it is also one of the most difficult. There are times when God gives you clear signs that faith is sprouting in a person’s spiritual life. There are also times when nothing seems to grow—it’s like a garden that does not produce anything. Just like gardening, you have to till the soil of faith so that the Holy Spirit can produce good fruit. And tilling is hard work.

Here are three ways you can help till the soil of faith in others (and yourself) to make it a garden where the Holy Spirit can grow and flourish.

  1. Sow. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1–9), Jesus reminds us that the farmer scattered seed indiscriminately. Some of the seeds ended up taking root in fertile soil, others were eaten by birds, and some fell on rocky ground. But the sower was relentless in his work—he kept on sowing and scattering seeds everywhere he could. Jesus tells us that the seeds that fell on good soil produced a bumper crop: “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold” of what was sown. We need to remember that when we scatter the seed, we need to be generous.
  2. Grow. During the winter months, the earth seems silent because there is an absence of vegetation. We mistakenly believe that nothing is growing or moving. We get excited when we see the first shoots of green popping up from the earth. But the tulip bulbs in my garden pushed through the darkness of the earth during the depths of winter. Even though I could not see it, it was growing. Growth—especially growth in the spiritual life—often happens in the unseen, silent recesses of the heart. You may not always see progress in another person’s spiritual life (or even your own), but that does not mean that the shoots of new life are not working their way toward the surface, ready to burst forth. We need to be patient.
  3. Go. Just as squirrels and other rodents can dig up the tulip bulbs in my garden, inertia and complacency threaten spiritual growth. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis warns against a “tomb psychology” which slowly transforms “Christians into mummies in a museum.” The key to a person’s spiritual growth is that he or she keeps walking toward Christ, no matter how small the steps may be. As ministers, we need to walk with them.

We are all called to scatter the seeds of the Gospel as best as we can. But unlike planting tulip bulbs, spreading Gospel seeds cannot be done in a planned or perfect way. Tending a spiritual garden is messy and requires a lot of work. Some of the seeds that we scatter will take root in a heart that is disposed to hearing what we have to say. Other seeds will fall to the ground unnoticed. And still others will yield a crop that far surpasses what we could ever imagine. We must always remember that the true gardener is the Holy Spirit. We are just an instrument of God; all we can do is help others cultivate their own spiritual gardens and watch those shoots of new life appear.

What have you found to be the best ways to “seed” the Gospel in the hearts of those to whom you minister?

When have you seen a shoot of new life emerge?

About Julianne Stanz 80 Articles
Julianne Stanz is the Director of Outreach for Evangelization and Discipleship at Loyola Press and a consultant to the USCCB Committee on Catechesis and Evangelization. She served previously as Director of Discipleship and Leadership Development for the Diocese of Green Bay. Julianne infuses her talks, retreats, and seminars with humor, passion, and insights from her life in Ireland. A popular speaker, storyteller, and author, Julianne is married with three children and spends her time reading, writing, teaching, and collecting beach glass. She is the author of Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church, Developing Disciples of Christ, Braving the Thin Places, and co-author, with Joe Paprocki, of The Catechist’s Backpack.

1 Comment

  1. As a DRE, I have given out seeds as a “thank you” gift: Here is the note with them:

    So maybe it is true that God’s reign is dependent on us. Maybe it is true that the future of the Church is in our hands. Well, those thoughts are not far from the truth. Maybe the future of the church does not depend solely on our actions, but God has called us to do what we can to keep His reign alive. This can be an overwhelming thought. It’s much easier just to think, “Ok, I will teach summer faith formation….

    Jesus sent his apostles off, and asked them to “Go and make disciples”. We in many aspects are not so different from those first followers of Jesus. We are called to do the same. Jesus did not give a concrete map to follow. So we have to follow what is in our heart that we think is the true path. And we have.

    We have planted seeds. This week, this year, and for all of us, for many years prior to this one. And some of those seeds have sprouted. This week we have seen the fruits of our labor. I have many memories, and you have your own moments as you led your groups that you too can recall.

    And our seeds will continue to flower and grow. They will continue to take root.

    Sometimes, that is all we can do, plant seeds. But we can do this in all that we do…

    So here as a very small token of our appreciation. We invite you to plant these seeds, and cultivate them. As they take root and flower, remember both the glory of God that they exemplify, and also the glory of God that is present in these young people we serve.

    We continue to be inspired and fed by your enthusiasm as you minister to our youth. We humbly cherish the opportunity to spread God’s word with you. Thank you for all that you do.

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