Do you remember Mr. McGregor from the Peter Rabbit stories? He was the crotchety old gardener who continued to chase all the adorable bunnies out of his cabbage. When they got caught in his shed, they feared for their lives because he was not kidding around about his garden. He was the “bad guy.” In the end, the poor bunnies were saved and made off with Old McGregor’s veggies. As a child, I was obviously in the palm of Beatrix Potter’s hand and rooted for the hungry rabbits wearing precious English coats. As an adult, I’m so annoyed at those little thieves. So, let me take this opportunity to express my sincere apologies to the fictional gardener Mr. McGregor. I feel ya Man. My little garden is not doing too well this year and I’m in the worst mood about it. I have bought and planted so many squash, zucchini and pepper plants this season that I have spent more than I EVER would at the store on actual squash, zucchini, and peppers. I mean, there isn’t a male in my family that will even touch anything from the squash family. But week after week I head back to the nursery to buy another fresh, healthy plant just to have it devoured less than 24 hours after it is in the ground.
Stupid, stinking, thieving rodents. (Around the Ranchito I think mice and rats are the problem more than bunnies in coats. Destructive none the less.)
I have tried everything. I have used the “Repel” spray and the stuff you shake around the perimeter of the garden. I have bought netting and cages for the plants. I have read every article about cinnamon and cayenne pepper. There have even been late night stake outs and BB Guns (It’s Texas y’all.). I have even researched the possibility of setting up owl roosts because they are supposed to be rats’ greatest predator. Unfortunately we don’t have any trees tall enough (It’s WEST Texas y’all). Nothing is working. No matter how many rodents we kill, there are always 10 more waiting to munch my little veggie plants. It’s not only the tender stems and leaves they are destroying… It is all of my hard work and toil. It is the possibility of the fruit (or vegetable). Gone. In a bite. The thing that really kills me is that there are 7 acres worth of plants to eat. There is a pasture full of lovely long grass. There are wild flowers in huge bunches all over this place.
In fact, I’m so mad about the garden right now that there are plenty of weeds lining the rows of half devoured plants. That’s not what these little thieves go for. It’s not what they want.
So God is showing me something in all of this which is good I guess. I mean if I can’t have zucchini bread I might as well have a little wisdom. The first lesson I am learning as I watch my garden being destroyed is about the “little foxes.” (I know, it’s rats not foxes. Stay with me). Remember the little foxes from Song of Solomon? In chapter 2:15 it says, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” The reference to the vineyards here is probably made in regards to the relationship between King Solomon and the Shulamite woman. He is giving her a warning that they need to be aware of the “little foxes” that can destroy their love. So rats are even smaller than foxes, right? And yet they can ruin my entire garden in one night. It makes me think about all of those little things, little distractions, little sins, little places of rebellion that I am letting destroy the fruit of what God is wanting to do in my life. Is the distraction of busyness eating up my peace? Is the sin of comparison destroying my joy? Is there a root of bitterness that is devouring my contentment? Are my words, my witness, my ministry being nibbled to nothingness because I have allowed a little fox of pride to reside too long in my heart? To catch them I have to be aware of them. After all, John 15:8 says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” If I am not bearing the fruit, showing myself to be a disciple, then I better get to fox hunting. They won’t go away on their own. There will have to be a plan, and equipment, and maybe I’ll need some help. Focus, the Word of God, a community around that is always calling me to be a better version of me, who can see the fruit God intends. We’re coming for you, you stupid little foxes.
Next, it strikes me as, ummmm, let’s say interesting (infuriating, exasperating) that the weeds are thriving next to the failing vegetables. No one went out to buy the weeds, no one loaded them in their car, no one prepared the soil for them, dug a hole, and gingerly placed them in the ground. No one has fertilized them or watered them. And yet, there they are; tall, strong, healthy. Weeds are the default. If nothing is done, it is the weeds that will grow, not the nutritious, beneficial fruits and vegetables we desire. I have to think, “what is my default?” What is yours? What will grow in us if left to our natural state? What attitudes will flourish? What words will be produced? What sin will thrive? What will come out in a crisis, when my feelings are hurt, when I am stressed or worried or tired? Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” So, that’s our soil to start with. That is our human flesh, our natural selves. It reminds me of the good ‘ole Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-23:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
The works of the flesh, the default, the weeds… they are easy to spot, they grow without effort, they are easily rampant. The fruits of the spirit, well they are a bit more time consuming to cultivate. I always think about Daniel and his buddies after they had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians. When they were given the opportunity to partake in the king’s richest of fares it says, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself…. (Daniel 1:8)” He had resolved to stay faithful before the temptation had come, therefore purity was his default in the face of defilement. Pulling weeds is boring and tedious and really, a never ending task. But to give what we have resolved in our hearts room to flourish, to make the fruit of the Spirit our default we have to get rid of them.
Healthy, yielding gardens don’t just happen. There may be seasons of rodents and weeds. My prayer of late in several difficult situations in my life has been, “Lord, find me faithful.” When I cannot control my circumstances, when I cannot make wise decisions for others, when my heart is broken or anxious or confused… find me faithful. Find me faithful in prayer. Find me faithful in the Word. Let the words of my mouth reflect the Truth of God rather than my own deceitful, weedy heart. Find me faithful to take every opportunity I am given to point people to Jesus, rather than to myself. Let it be my default rather than the weeds of this world. Show me the little foxes, the rats, the distractions, sins, or places of apathy and find me faithful in the hunt. God intends an abundant harvest in my life, in yours. But if we ignore the rodents and the weeds the crop will be meager. Let my life, my witness, my marriage, my motherhood, my friendships be more productive than my little vegetable garden is this year.
So, poor, dear Mr. McGregor, I am truly sorry for my childhood ignorance. I know now that you are not the “bad guy” but a faithful gardener. I envy that lush patch of earth you cultivated. Well done, Sir.
And now, I have to go put another zucchini plant in the ground. Lord, find me faithful and persistent!