I’ve heard rumors that as one ages, they tend to go one of two ways:
Either their edges and tendencies grow sharper, harsher, and more amplified or they soften – desaturated slightly by their life experiences.
This past weekend, I turned 37. While that is certainly far from old, I know for certain which of these “ways” I will choose to travel.
The first time I became aware of my tendancies, I was watching a commercial – perhaps you remember it…
A young boy stood in the driveway – dressed in some sort of superhero costume. His little arms were outstretched towards the family car in the driveway. As he brought his arms towards the car, flexed with superhero power, the car lights flashed and it honked. Because of this, he was convinced his superpowers were working and so he kept on flexing his arms and hands at the vehicle – perfectly pleased each time it worked.
The next shot cuts to his Dad inside the house, watching the whole ordeal play out. In his hand was the key fob for the vehicle. Each time the young boy flexed at the car, his Dad would lock or unlock the car with the key fob, causing it to light up and honk at the exact moment the boy expected his force to work.
The Dad, for that moment, made the boy feel like a superhero. He delighted in bringing a smile to his face. The whole story was captivatingly sweet and reminded the viewer of the power that parents have to instill their children with hope.
I remember seeing this commercial after having had one (or some… who can remember now..) of my children. It struck me in an intimate way and I quickly found myself wiping rolling tears from my cheeks as I watched it. “It’s so sweet…” I whimpered to Stuart as he looked at me with question in his eyes. “He wants his son to have hope…”
Fast foward a few years and my heart has grown even soften. Weddings are cause for grander celebrations. Births are more precious. Death causes a deeper pain. Prayers are heartfelt and plentiful.
I can happily sit and watch a cat nap – enjoying the peace and calm, knowing they feel safe and comfortable. I save little notes written to me by my children, knowing the days of such precious gifts are numbered. There are experiences now in my heart that have shaped the way I see the world and have caused me to fall deeper in love with a God that is lasting, true, and beautiful.
Because of this, I have softened.
I haven’t softened because life has been easy or without pain and trials. Rather, because of the experience of these pain and trials, I am more empathetic and less dogmatic. The important pieces of life are amplified and the insignificant everything-else fades… fades…
And thus we find ourselves in the garden. No longer carrying the weight of making it like such and such… but rather, fully able to open my heart towards its gift. While any garden worth it’s salt needs tending and care, there will always be weeds and tasks that demand your attention. There’s no perfection, no completeness. This is – quite simply – not possible.
Gardens, like life, require a lot of maintenance tasks and hum-drum work. Frankly, there’s some days I don’t want to go to the garden at all, knowing the work that awaits. But a softened heart has the ability to see beyond the weeds and imperfections to focus on gratitude.
Thank you, Lord, for giving me this garden to tend to. For this good work to do with my hands. Thank you for an able body and the feel of the hot sun on my back. Thank you for this piece of land we get to care for and create beauty with. Thank you for the ways that we see your hand in creation and the way we get to know the artist by studying his masterpiece.
Now, I see bumblebees, spiders, earthworms, blossoms, seed pods, bright green garden hoses, and yes – even weeds – with a softened heart. The goal has shifted from creating something magical and perfect and powerful to enjoyment, contentment, and peace with our endless labor.
I labor – don’t let the pretty words fool you. It’s backbreaking work.
But at the end of it, I don’t feel unfinished. I feel grateful.
So perhaps this will make me a weepy old woman who delights in spotting birds and caring for little frogs that have claimed my pond as their home. Maybe it means I will cry often over wonderful and sad things. Maybe it means I give people, and myself, a lot more grace as a human who struggles, loves, loses, and longs. Maybe my belief in a God who orchestrates each note of the symphony, who has shown me grace I do not deserve, gives me a softened heart towards others who could use a measure of that grace as well.
But in a world that grows more rigid and contrasted, I would chose a bleeding heart over synosysm and bitterness. I would choose to embrace the imperfections in myself and in others, letting life be what it is: fleeting, temporary, and ravishingly harsh and beautiful all at once.
It’s all here. Packaged up in the garden. A softened, imperfect soul – made perfect only by a God-given heart to see it’s perfection in Christ.