In his book, “Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating” Norman Wirzba describes his first experience with gardening,
"I had thought I would grow my fruits and vegetables in a picturesque plot… In my accounting system there was no room for rock and hard clay, weeds, pests, uncooperative weather… I envisioned myself as a gardener in complete control of the garden, and my garden as a place where I could get the commodities I wanted without too much effort, study, or patience."
For all of the idyllic Pinterest boards and magazine covers, Wirzba’s picturesque view of gardening had finally made contact with the harsh reality of the thing itself. The real work of gardening, as opposed to how it is portrayed, was not easy or simple. Real things never are.
It’s an astounding thing that scripture uses images of soil and seed to describe the life of Christian discipleship. One of the many tragedies of our modern age is that few of us have had Wirzba’s experience. The closest we have come to a garden is with the double tap of our thumb on an Instagram picture. We are then left without a framework when scripture calls upon these vibrant realities convey the mystery of the gospel: Christ as the first fruits, the body as a seed sown into the ground awaiting resurrection, and maturity that looks like a tree rooted by streams.
The world is full of quick fixes for discipleship. Books that will, “change your life” blog posts touting the 5 steps to a more authentic walk. Perhaps we find ourselves here because we have disconnected the “what” of discipleship from the way in which Scripture says that it will be experienced. Then we hit the wall, and we grow discouraged. We find that discipleship is not easy or simple, of course, real things never are. It’s here that we must come to grips with the fact that our slow growth towards Christ is not the failure of the Spirit to work, but His faithfulness to act exactly as He has said he would, in spite of our poorly calibrated expectations.
Wirzba came to realize the fault in his own perception, “I had come to think of my garden as a store where, in the words of Sears, I could conveniently enjoy a good life at a great price, guaranteed. The reality of gardening, however, put me in direct contact with my own ignorance and sloth.” So it is with formation; the slow work of true discipleship does not put us into contact with God’s slothfulness, but our own impatience. God is not a fast food employee, he is a gardener. To accomplish the work of forming us into the likeness of the second Adam he must once again reach down into the soil, clear away the weeds, plant, water and wait until the day when we bear much fruit.