5 Things Gardening Taught Me About God and Fatherhood

God is patient in his work of breaking up the hard soil of our souls.

(photo: Manfred Richter/Pixabay/CC0)

My in-laws had their walkways and driveway redone last fall, and new space for garden beds opened up where old walkways had once been. It was time to plant the garden, so mom and dad took their gardening tools and went to work. A few hours later, I checked in with them to see how they were doing, only to find that they were making slow progress. The soil where the walkways had been was hard, dry and mostly clay. They had not gotten down more than a few inches.

So, I offered my services, and the next day I took a digging bar, a pick ax, and a shovel to the area. Here are five things I learned about God and fatherhood while trying to break up hard clay down to 18 inches.


1. The Father’s work requires patience.

Once again, I have managed to complete one project while destroying something in the process. A digging bar is nothing other than a very large, heavy, pointed metal bar that is lifted in the air and allowed to fall, using its own great momentum, to pierce down into the hard earth. It is a wonderful, effective tool for breaking up hard earth. It is also a wonderful and effective tool for breaking through PVC underground drainage pipes … that were just installed the autumn before. Within 10 minutes of beginning the project, I managed to accidentally locate, by my own special method of destruction, one of those pipes. Needless to say, I was much more careful for the rest of the project.

God is patient in his work of breaking up the hard soil of our souls. Life is messy, and dry, hard soil will not bear fruit or sustain growth. So, as Kristin Lavransdatter’s father observes at the end of the novel bearing her name, the earth has to be ground up before the plants can grow. But God applies the right pressure in the right place at the right time so that the right job is done.


2. Those who do the work of the Father acquire the smell of the Father.

As I worked at the ground, I developed the body condition and smell that often accompanies hard manual labor. This was nothing new. But perhaps for the first time I was reminded of how my father smelled when he got sweaty from doing similar hard work.

In a less offensive way, the same principle holds when it comes to God the Father. If we do his work, we acquire his smell. There is an aroma about the saints that is unmistakable; it is the aroma of divine love (2 Corinthians 2:15).


3. The authentic work of the Father is attractive.

When some of my children came outside to play, they saw me working on the garden bed and were immediately interested.

“Can I help?”


The 4-, 6-, 7- and 10-year-olds were all in right away. The 4-month-old gave in to laziness and just watched the rest of us sweat under the strain.

The fact is that they really had no idea what I was doing or how I was going about it. Even if they had a vague idea, they didn’t understand it or see the bigger plan the way that I did. Nevertheless, they wanted to be a part of it, despite the odor.

There is something attractive about authentic work at any level, but most especially at the spiritual level. St. Francis of Assisi attracted so many followers because it was obvious that God was up to something. If we go about the business and work of the Father, people will notice and want to be a part of it. This is why millions have entered the Church; they can sense God’s true presence, even if they do not understand the bigger picture.


4. Our work is really the Father’s work.

Almost immediately after receiving permission to participate in the labor, the children went for the tools; the big, dangerous tools. I wanted to encourage them and let them have a feel for the tools and what they can do, so I demonstrated for them and then handed them over. As they wielded the implements, though, I kept my hand on them to guide the pointy ends into the ground and not into a foot. They thought they were working on their own and doing something significant, when in reality I was keeping them safe and their efforts were much less effective than mine.

God the Father condescends even to allow us to participate in his work of redemption. We sometimes operate under the impression that we are the ones doing the work, when really it is God doing the work through us, guiding with a loving hand our weak and imperfect movements in the mission he has ordained.


5. There are some jobs only the Father can do.

When I did let them work on their own, I applied myself to the delicate (so I had learned) task of locating other drainage pipes. Seeing that I was doing something different and, so they probably thought, more important, they wanted to help. I had to explain to them that this was a particular job only I could do.

We can be hasty and presumptuous about the role we want to play in the Kingdom of God, but there are certain tasks and roles — vocations, if you will — that are entrusted to us and not others. And there is work given to others that I ought not to envy. Ultimately, all work is done by God. It is above my pay-grade to convert the heart and soul of each of my children. I can do what is meant for me to do, but ultimately it is the work of the Spirit to loosen up that soil and plant the seed that will grow into the vine of life, clinging to the trellis of love — the Cross.


St. Joseph, pray for us!