I went out to check my garden again this morning. The tomato leaves had little beads of water on them from last night's rain and the ground smelled earthy and warm. The humidity in the air was thick, but since it was so early it was comforting rather than oppressive.
As I walked around, I took note of things that needed tending to. Things that were urgent and needed my help immediately or things I could deal with later. One kale that had been destroyed by cabbage worms was promptly uprooted and discarded. I moved on and marveled over my first female flower on my tromboccino vine. It was my favorite squash variety last year, sweetly given to me by a dear friend. It is finally ready to bear fruit! I’m hoping for a great harvest this year as I used it for zucchini replacement and didn’t buy zucchini for 6 months after last summer’s harvest. I have it trailing up and over the trellis my grandfather assembled for my 16th birthday. He is with Jesus now, but that trellis has been used as a headboard over my bed for years and was the arch under which I walked down the aisle to meet my husband. It has a beautiful place in our garden now and I trained the squash vine up its metal sides hoping to give it plenty of space to breathe and grow.
Then I turned around and saw my cucumbers. My beloved cucumber vines, where the Lord is always teaching me something. Teaching me about seasons, about consistent watering, and today about when initially helpful things become unintentionally detrimental if left in place too long.
As my cucumbers started to blossom this year, I again put the bird net over the baby fruits to prevent the chipmunks, squirrels, and birds from munching off the cucumbers before they even began to bloom. It’s been about 6 weeks since I did that and my cucumbers are coming in full force now. I think I counted about 8 small ones that will be ready to pick in about a week! Then, I looked up at the top of the vines.
The netting which had served its purpose early on was starting to restrain and strangle the continued growth of these delicate vines. One cucumber was halfway growing through the netting to the point that it was being cut by the thin strings as it struggled to grow. Other parts of the vine were balled up in small knots, trying to grow but being kept under pressure and under restraint as they reached for the sun. A third area showed a brave little vine that poked through the netting and flowered on the outside, its leaves spread wide toward the sun and its sweet little yellow flower calling for pollinators to come visit. It seemed free, but upon further inspection the net was still tangled up in the green tendrils of the rest of the plant and would eventually choke out the growth that seemed so green right now.
“I have to take care of this today,” I thought to myself, “If I don’t the plant won’t reach its full potential.” I went back inside and armed myself with bug spray and grabbed my phone for pictures.
As I gingerly began to unravel the vine from the net, I felt the Lord speaking over all that I could learn from this single task. How good is our God that in the simplicity of creation his mercies are proclaimed day in and day out.
That net was beneficial when I put it out as it kept the birds and chipmunks away and gave my baby cucumber vines space to breathe, but as the vines grew stronger and larger the netting started to restrict and restrain rather than provide protection. The didn't need the net anymore, now the tendrils of the vines were tangled up in the plastic weaving and the ends were bunching up under the weight of resistance.
In the counseling world we call them defensive mechanisms. Those areas in our lives where at one point in time we developed a behavior that was beneficial for our survival but now it’s become detrimental to our growth. We walk around carrying this learned skill or behavior and think we are free. We think we’ve got it figured out how to live our “best lives” and keep other people from hurting us, but realistically we are trapped under the net of the behaviors and choices we set in place long ago. From self-depreciating, to people pleasing, avoiding vulnerability, or staying distracted to avoid emotional pain these all fall under the same category: once upon a time they served a purpose but now they're holding us back.
From a spiritual perspective this would be described as putting an unholy emphasis on another person’s opinions and values or choosing to get worth from something like a job or the approval of others. When we choose to find our security in people or things that make us feel safe, we are essentially choosing someone or something else over Jesus. That imbalance was never meant to prevail and the net has to come off for us to reach our own flourishing. The areas in our life that we hold onto too tightly are the areas where we are constantly saying through our actions, "I don't trust the Jesus can take care of this wound, vulnerability, weakness, etc."
Either way, you didn’t mean to get here. You didn’t mean to be stuck under the weight of the vows, responsibilities, and pressure that surround you every day.
If you are tired of carrying the weight, let me tell you what the Good Gardener does for you.
1) He approaches you tenderly. He knows this wasn’t where you meant to be. He knows the desires of your heart and that you’re longing for freedom to reach toward the sun with abandon.
2) He begins to unravel the false sense of security from the tendrils of your heart. He picks it up one piece at a time. Some of the tendrils break and some come away unscathed, but he is freeing you all the same.
3) He breaks the net so your fruit can continue to flourish, despite a few scars. I looked at this little cucumber that had been so restricted by the net, that its own growth was causing it to be damaged and thought to myself, “look at those little cucumber tears.” Those so called tears would go on to heal the wound and allow the fruit to continue growing.
4) Sometimes he has to sever something so the whole of the plant can live. No matter how free a piece of the vine felt when it poked through the top, it was never truly free until the net was removed, and some of the plant had to come with it. This can be painful, as the vine felt part of its leaves and a flowering fruit being pruned away. Like surgery must cause a scar to save a life, sometimes healing can be painful.
5) He gently retrains the vines so the place they put their hope is strong and secure. In every place the cucumber was holding on to the netting as a false sense of security I unraveled it, picked it back up, and wound it around a strong post that was intentionally put there by me to support the weight in a healthy way.
6) He searches for anything else that was hiding in the shadows. As I removed and untangled the net, I found some squash bugs and cucumber beetles that were hiding in the recesses of folded leaves. I didn’t brush them away to deal with another day. I squished them immediately. I didn’t want to give them a single chance to cause any more damage or reproduce.
When we ask the Lord to search our hearts and see if there is anything offensive in us sometimes we mean it, sometimes we don’t. But the rub is knowing that we won't fully reach our potential as followers of Jesus when we are tied down to unholy netting. Are you ready for those old ties to come out? Are you ready for those defense mechanisms to fall to the ground as you let the Lord take up being your defender? You’ll feel vulnerable like the cucumbers who don’t have any netting to protect them from the birds now, but the reality is that they’ve grown stronger and don’t need the protection anymore and I'll be checking on them every day. You might feel shaky, as that false sense of security was broken away and you have to retrain your support and tie your tendrils around something more stable.
But it will be worth it because you’ll be reaching for the sun, soaking in the rain, and flourishing in the way you were intended to. Your defender is the good gardener. He will prune, support, and supply all you need.
Are you willing to let him?
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bearmore fruit."