I’ll never forget the article I read that announced the beginning of the pandemic for our nation. Our country watched in great fear as the Italian hospital system became overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients over the Atlantic. As the American infectious disease establishment connected with our friends in Europe the only news they could write to us with any clear authority was the directive from our Italian friends: “shut it all down.” Close the doors. Stop congregating. The hospitals are about to be overwhelmed. And overwhelmed they were. Medical establishments will spend the next decade or more recovering from the shock that Covid-19 was to the system. As the people who had to shut our lives down, so will we also, spend a decade or more recovering from the global pandemic.
In addition to “shut it down,” one physician began to list additional problems headed to our horizons. People would die. Economies would shudder. Wealth would be lost. That last one struck me sideways when I read it. Wealth lost. While the writer of the article I was reading surely meant economic wealth, the only thing that came to mind to me in that particular moment was “Kingdom of God” types of treasure. Things like trusting relationships between people and the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control. I know how sustained pressure of any kind, brought about by any number of difficulties, can cause our integrity to “leak” and cause the kinds of social devastation that’s so often beyond repair.
The past 2 years have proven the physician’s words. Wealth HAS been lost. And while again, we could point to monetary losses, I still can’t help but dwell on the alternative forms of capital we had two years ago that no longer exist for us. Our relationships and the institutions that supported those relationships began to so positively leak all over each other and all over themselves. I include myself in this community. I have had more than my share of personality leak over the last two years. How do we begin to pick up the pieces and start over? What should new beginnings look like?
This spring I began my first real adult garden. We have a little side yard that gets some amazing summer sun and after years of trying and failing to cultivate tomato plants in the places we’ve rented I’ve finally learned that all I really need to do to succeed in gardening is to plant seeds in good soil and water them if and when they look a little thirsty. That’s it. It rains enough in Georgia that I’ve probably only watered the garden twice since I planted it in March.
I’ve experimented with a few other things this year that I haven’t done in the past. I’ve started composting. This is a process whereby I take the cast off remnants of the fruits and vegetables we use, mix them in with paper and tree waste (dead leaves etc) to produce the nutrients our garden needs to grow healthy and strong. My first “go” at composting has now given me over a dozen unexpected butternut squash plants that are currently spilling out into the grass with their huge yellow flowers as they twist their way between the sunflowers I planted from seed a few months ago. Our household “trash” from some time last fall is actually quite alive and well, thank you very much. What an image to hold onto.
A second gardening tactic I tried was to cut back our rose bushes in the hopes that they might look a little perkier this year. Last summer we’d not had the time and the roses looked so dull. This year, those rose bushes were fuller than I ever expected, courtesy of some time spent with pruning shears in early spring. I smile knowingly each time I read Jesus’ words in John 15: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
In these practices of composting and pruning I find myself mostly unconcerned about the loss of wealth, be it financial or relational wealth. Our great God has me in the palm of his hand. He is not surprised by anything that the last two years have brought. Its you and me who have found ourselves caught off guard and thus not at the ready to adjust our sails to the times.
But adjust and change we must or we cannot bloom beautifully as we’re surely intended to. Change is difficult. Especially in seasons when what we’re actually becoming next is unclear.
Here’s the only thing I know for sure. The last few years have been incredibly challenging for all of us. We are going to leak all over each other while the Lord rebuilds and refashions us into the people he would have us be for the future. A good healthy dose of patience and kindness wherever possible will be worth its weight in gold moving forward.
Growth and adaptation will require risk and creativity. The systems we’ve used in the past don’t work anymore. I believe this is true on every level from the economy to our families. Our healthcare system to the church.
Oddly, I am not afraid. I’m grateful God is pruning us. What we’ve done in the recent past to steward our families and our society is not sustainable on any level. And so, as I learn new practices that will sustain our family in the future, I stand fascinated that life grows in the weirdest conditions. Like in a compost bin. I wonder what creative thing I can do each day while we wait for the Lord to make all things new? I wonder what we can do that’s peaceful and kind…what new practice might usher forward the kingdom of God in a way we’ve not yet witnessed?