Throughout most of my adult life, summer has meant getting my hands dirty in some form of a garden. From my early days of traveling to a little garden plot in a friend’s backyard, to planting in buckets on the porch of my small New England apartment, to my current arrangement of three beautiful raised beds—plants and green things have always been part of my summer months.
I check on my garden daily, tracking its progress, pointing out new blooms or baby vegetables to my kids, and celebrating each slight change. We tracked the growth of our blueberry plant for weeks as it burst forth first with blooms, then with white fruit that slowly turned to blue. We excitedly waited to feast on the berries, giving them just another day to fully ripen, and were horrified to find that a hungry critter got to them first.
Around the same time our blueberries went missing, I found “Gray,” a groundhog we’ve affectionately named, feasting on our lettuce. He helped himself to all three of our lettuce plants, running off with a very full belly. A few days later, while trying to free my watermelon plant from the ants constantly crawling on it, I discovered half the plant was covered in aphids (which were probably being farmed by the ants).
As I sat to write in my gardening journal a few days after all this horror came to pass, I couldn’t help but reflect on the first garden. It’s hard to imagine how perfect and wonderful that garden must have been before sin entered the world. What did God’s beautiful garden look like without blueberry thieves, plant-killing aphids, and hungry critters? Or maybe the point was that there was so much bounty that people were happy to share it with hungry critters?
In the midst of so much pain and death in our world—due to COVID, but also from racial injustice, poverty, and other diseases that plagued our world before this pandemic—I sometimes can’t help but long for that garden. I can’t help but wish we were still there.
In doing so, I make the mistake of looking back for hope instead of forward. In pain, I long for a garden, when God has promised me a city. Revelation proclaims:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4)
As Al Wolters describes in Creation Regained, “Perhaps the most fitting symbol of the development of creation from the primordial past to the eschatological future is the fact that the Bible begins with a garden and ends with a city — a city filled with ‘the glory and the honor of the nations.’” (Eerdmans 2005, p. 48)
I find this tendency to look back with longing instead of forward with hope throughout my life. Looking back, I remove the painful parts of my past, making things seem better than they were. I long for a fake version of reality instead of looking forward in hope for the true reality yet to come.
Even in my garden, I’ve spent years lamenting that no growing season was as good as the first year we planted in our raised beds. But a few days ago I was surprised when, looking at a photo from that glorious growing year, I realized my current garden is twice as large and healthy as that idealized one.
I could have given up a few weeks ago, discouraged by the critters and pests, but I would have destroyed the best garden I’ve ever grown. Instead, I continued to work my little plot of God’s earth.
A week after first spotting the aphids, my watermelon plant looks as healthy as ever and has two baby fruits. There’s no getting back our blueberries, but we’ve better protected our second blueberry bush and are now eagerly tracking the progress of its white fruit. And as for the lettuce? To be honest, we probably weren’t going to eat it anyway, so I suppose I’m glad it filled the belly of our furry friend.
We can’t see what the world will look like in a week, a month, a season, or a year. But we’re called to continue working our own plot of God’s earth: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). We’re called to look forward in hope, trusting that God will use our feeble efforts to produce beautiful fruit.