“This garden is dead. It is the most forgotten place I’ve ever seen. With loose gray branches, roots and leaves all tangled up on the ground.” The caretaker responds, “Mary, did you take a real good look at everything? The strongest roses thrive on being neglected if the soil is rich enough. I can tell if a thing is wick. When the thing is wick, it has a life about it. Now maybe not like her life, like you and me, but somewhere there’s a single streak of green inside it.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Spring 2021, new life is breaking forth everywhere. Our old fig tree that literally takes up 3/4 of our backyard is beginning to leaf. The orange tree that hangs over our fence has delicate white flowers that emit a sweet aroma that wafts through the air every time we open our windows. The grapevines that hang from our wooden fence that last year only produced one small batch of champagne grapes that were too sour to eat. We are hoping for a better harvest this summer.
At times my faith feels much like those dry old vines. There is wick in them somewhere. Life does flow through the vines; I just can’t see it. I grew up in a Christian household. I made a conscious decision to follow Jesus when I was twelve; that was a long time ago.
My faith became truly my own at 17. In the ensuing 42 years, I have pursued educational endeavors, traveled the world, preached the gospel, served in six different churches, ministered to thousands of students, and sometimes felt joy unspeakable and sometimes felt dead. At other times the Holy Spirit has shown up, and I have felt his presence, but more often than not, I have gone through the motions. Sometimes faking the emotion but always believing in my heart completely that God is real.
I’ve allowed my own pain and hurt to shut out his presence. My fear of hurt and separation has kept me at times, alone. CS Lewis said it best:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
A few weeks ago, I ventured alone into our backyard—a tricky endeavor in my condition. I went to the side of the house where grapevines are growing. They have been bare all winter long. The fact that they’re up against our old wooden fence made them look that much older. They looked dry and brittle and lacking life at first glance, but upon closer inspection, you could see a glimpse, a glimmer of what was to come.
Spring sunshine is back, and I once again went to the backyard this morning. I was delighted to see the side yard beginning to team with new life. Those dry, brittle vines are starting to sprout fresh leaves that will, in turn, produce small Champagne grapes for us to share with each other and our neighbors. There’s no surprise that Jesus used wine, to symbolize his blood that was shed for us. Those vines are a delightful gift in the height of the summer bringing flavor and sunshine to our otherwise drab side yard.
I had a pastor friend once tell me that he believed that what we saw on the outside mirrors what is happening in the spiritual realm. It certainly seems true in my case. It feels as if God has been doing something truly remarkable in my life in the last five months. There has been a lot of digging, ripping up, clearing out, and planting. If you’ve ever read the book, The Shack, a book of Christian fiction. In that case, there’s a scene where Sarayru, the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, takes Mack by the hand into what used to be a garden. It is unkempt and shameful.
“This garden is your soul. This mess is you, Mackenzie, together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process.” ~ William P. Young, The Shack
In the past four months, God has been doing something significant in my being. My life has felt like the Garden that Sarayu showed Mack. I am further along in the process. I cannot wait to see what God is birthing, but in the end, that means something must die.
When the garden that Sarayru and Mack worked on together was completed, Jesus, Papa, Sarayu, and Mack buried Missy’s casket in the garden of Mack’s soul. The symbolism here is unmistakable. He is burying the great sorrow. The thing that has held him back from embracing the one who loved him from the beginning and will love him forever.
My garden is a mess, but it is in process. There is a casket waiting to be buried there as well. I know my 21 years at Mission Hills will be inside that casket, as well as 37 years of youth ministry. There will be other things, some that I will be proud of and others that I am ashamed of and will be glad they will be hidden forever, at least from public view. The Holy Spirit is doing a work, a beautiful, complicated, painful work. The song in my head and the one I have woken up to every day this past week has the line “my heart needs a surgeon, my soul needs a friend”. Jesus is both.
There is wick in the old vines.