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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?