We have all heard the old saying, “You reap what you sow.” This principle has more influence in our lives than we often think. In simple ways, we can see this principle at work: generally, if you work hard, you experience a good benefit; and if you’re lazy, you don’t. But we have to preface this principle by “generally.” If fact, many of us might argue that “generally” is not really the right word. Many of us have experienced situations in which no matter how hard you work, you can’t get much benefit. And we have all known people who seem to have all sorts of advantages in life, so they don’t have to work very hard to receive lots of benefits.
The fact is that life is complicated. What I harvest depends a great deal on what I plant, but it also depends a great deal on what my parents and grand parents have planted. We all spend a great deal of our adult lives pulling the weeds from the garden of our life, weeds that were planted (knowingly or unknowingly) by our parent, grand parents and even by many generations of ancestors. And if we are wise, we realize that we ourselves have passed on weeds of various sorts to our children and grandchildren--calling for a certain amount of humility and compassion when our children and grandchildren don’t always turn out exactly as we had hoped.
And matters get even more complicated. Seeds are sown in the garden of our life by our friends, teachers, and enemies (see Matt. 13:25), by the movies we see, books we read and music we listen to. Some of the seeds sprout quickly. Some wait for years until just the right combination of circumstances come along and suddenly anger, lust, cynicism, fear, or rebellion spring up seemingly out of nowhere. Seeds are powerful and don’t just go away by themselves.
And while we cannot control all of the seeds sown in the garden of our life--you don’t get to choose your family and are often trapped in a circle of friendships and work related relationships that cannot be easily changed--nevertheless, we are not powerless. Seeds are ideas, thoughts that spring up in the garden of our mind. We can decide to pull them out or let them grow. We can get help from the Church, from counselors, from wise friends. To a large extent we can still manage the garden of our lives, even if we cannot control everything that springs up. We can water and care for what we want to grow, and we can do our best not to water but to pull out of our lives those things that we do not want to grow.
One more thing. Our garden (our life) is not just about us as individuals. What we let grow will produce fruit and seeds in the gardens of those around us, in the gardens of our children and grand children. If I nurture plants (thoughts, actions, disciplines, practices) that produce peace, kindness, gentleness, self control, etc, then the seeds of such virtues will be planted in lives of the people around me and in those who follow after me. It’s not just about me. Spiritual life and spiritual disciplines are not merely a matter of “my” relationship with God. They are about loving my neighbor. The work I do to cultivate my inner life today will bear fruit not only in my life, but more importantly, in the lives of those who are near me--my neighbors, my family, my colleagues, my friends.