Twice this week, I have been reminded of the old adage: “No pain, no gain!” It seems to me that growth seldom comes about without a considerable amount of toil.
My first reminder came on Wednesday, when we had to clear out the loft. You see, our house is about to grow! Well not literally. Over the next few weeks, all of our unused roof space will be cleverly converted into two extra bedrooms and a bathroom. It will be a wonderful blessing when the work is all completed, but home renovations certainly come with their own set of peculiar challenges…
Allow me to elaborate. The entire contents of our loft is now piled up precariously in various places around the house! Not a nook or a cranny has escaped! Christmas trees in bulky boxes are stuffed in corners. Seldom used sleeping bags and travel cases now adorn the top of my wardrobe. Dusty old college books are stacked up in the girl’s room, along with those random photos that I don’t really know why I kept. A box of video tapes that my kids used to watch over and over again is fast becoming a trip hazard in the hallway. My son’s beloved wooden train set – all 380 pieces of it – now adds to the clutter in his already overcramped bedroom! Don’t we humans gather a lot of ‘stuff’? Suddenly I am acutely aware of the reason why we needed a loft in the first place!
And just when we thought we’d pulled out the last box of junk from the roof, my husband made a surprise discovery! There in the corner of the loft, up in the rafters, was a bee’s nest! Didn’t see that one coming! Three phone calls and fifty quid later, the bees nest was carried out of the house in a very buzzy cardboard box, by a man clad in a bright blue boiler suit and a most curious netted hat, followed – hot on his heels – by a pack of fascinated children!
So the first thing I’ve learnt is this: if you want to see growth, you are going to have to sort through all of your extraneous clutter! You might uncover a hornets nest, and you might just find the contents of your life are subject to a bit of ‘rearranging’! Ouch!
My second reminder came today – whilst I was doing some gardening. I had decided to tackle a long-neglected patch in my ‘flower bed’. I hesitate to call it a flower bed, because in actual fact, it seemed to have merged with the rest of the lawn! It had enough grass growing through it to start a small meadow! The clay soil, untouched for over a year, had become hard and compact. It took a considerable amount of force to plunge my fork deep enough into the soil to get beneath the stubborn roots of all the unwanted grass and weeds. It involved an awful lot of bending down, hands in the dirt, removing stones, picking out dead stems and roots. I had to painstakingly avoid pulling up a crop of lilies along with the unwanted grass. And just to add to the challenge, this particular section of the flower bed, has a rather over-zealous climbing rose at the back of the border – beautiful, but deadly! It seemed to have sprouted dozens of spiteful little thorny shoots, which lay hidden in the undergrowth, just waiting for me to spike myself on!
There seemed to be only one approach to this task: inch by inch! There were no short cuts. This was going to take time, effort and energy. You see, there’s so much more to creating a beautiful garden than simply planting flowers! That’s the easy part. As any true gardener knows, it’s the preparation – the groundwork – that really counts.
As I was breaking up that hard, unyielding soil, I couldn’t help but reflect on the wonderful ways that God has dealt with me over the years. Breaking up the “fallow ground” – turning over the hard, unyielding, unfruitful places in my heart. As I removed stones and bits of rubble, I couldn’t help but think of how God has “removed my heart of stone, and given me a heart of flesh.” As I heard the satisfying ‘pop’ of weeds being torn out of the earth, it reminded me of the way He has lovingly and patiently rooted out some of those stubborn sins that threatened to overwhelm me. As I pruned back that over-eager climbing rose, I couldn’t help but think of the way He sometimes has to prune back the parts of us that aren’t bearing fruit – the straggling, unruly stems that spoil shape and form, weighing us down, zapping us of energy.
The second thing I learned about growth, is this: it requires dedication, time and commitment. And sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable. If you want to see growth, you are going to need to dig deep. It may require lots of time spent on your knees, crying out to the one who is able to get to the root of those stubborn weeds that threaten to take over! It may involve the pain of pruning, of cutting back those things that are unnecessary. You see, there will never be growth without toil. There will never be new life without labour. Though there be pain in the night, joy will surely come with the morning.
Is growth then, really worth all the effort? Isn’t it easier just to remain within the confines of all that is safe and secure? Isn’t it easier just to put your feet up and leave well alone. Well I suppose we have to ask ourselves a few difficult questions. Do we want to stay within our current limitations? Do we want to let fear keep us within our comfort zones? Do we want to live in our cramped and cluttered houses with our hoard of hard-to-let-go-of ‘stuff’, or do we want to be stretched for better use. Do we want to have lives full of colourful and vibrant blooms, or remain a hard, stony, unfruitful patch of earth? Do we trust the Master Craftsman to “enlarge our borders and stretch out our tent-pegs”? Do we trust the Master Gardener to make us into a “well-watered garden?”
Praise God that there was once a Man who bore the thorns and went through unimaginable toil in order to make me His own. He humbled Himself and bowed low to remove the stones, the rubble and the weeds from my hard, unyielding heart – all because He loved me too much to leave me as I was – all because He wanted to make me into a fruitful vineyard, a planting of the Lord. I wonder if you will join me today, in offering up your heart to all of God’s workmanship – no matter how costly or painful – in order that we might grow into all that He wants us to be.