I don’t know when it happened. I guess slowly, very slowly. As a sourdough baker I know that the process of proofing the whole dough takes time. If you watch the dough rise, you will quickly get bored. The process is slow, yet despite it’s gradual pace it will eventually leaven the whole dough. If you leave it to prove unattended beyond it’s due time, despite it’s slow pace it can quickly become over-proofed. The over-proofed dough will sour and the gluten will be so weak that it won’t be able to hold it’s shape. The once strong elastic gluten, now weakened, can no longer stretch and expand. The beautiful bubbles that formed slowly over the long rise disintegrate. The dough, once full of life, now exhausted can no longer give you it’s best. Instead the result will be a sloppy, acidic mess. I think, in some ways that is what happened to me. It was so slow that I didn’t realise the effect it was having on me until, like an over-proof dough, I could no longer perform at my best. Many years of a finger prodding in my side, with the occasional strong blow knocking me to my feet, has resulted in a deep emotional exhaustion that I just haven’t been able to shift no matter what I have tried.
In the beginning I was filled with the fresh fragrance of God’s love and the hope of the promises of God. This fragrance and hope meant that after each knock down I was able to get up from the battle with renewed vigor to keep pursuing the future. However, one morning after many years of prodding and knocks I noticed a pain in the upper regions of my heart, just a little knot. I remember asking God about this pain, I knew it was pain related to the years of suffering, but not really knowing what to do I kept going believing somehow it would be healed. Slowly over the years the pain grew until it had engulfed my entire being. Now with the pain so intense I can no longer keep going as before. My mind and soul is weakened and I am not able to stretch like I use to. I awake each morning to a deep pain and a desire to not endure another day. Something that even the greats like Elijah, David and Moses in the bible spoke about in poetry and personally to God. Over the many months I have journeyed through this I have spent many hours in my garden, a place of personal refuge. I have felt so low that I have wondered how I could ever get back to being someone full of life and hope.
At the beginning of the year I had to make a painful decision, this decision was final. A walking away from the old. I guess it was a tipping point, the final blow. Unfortunately by this stage I had endured so many years of emotional suffering that I couldn’t really pinpoint what exactly was hurting. I didn’t understand my pain, I just knew it was big. I met the first layer of pain weeding my garden. I went out to my weed infested garden and ripped out everything that didn’t belong. As I did I yelled to God my deep pain; the betrayal, the lies of leaders, the disappointment, the bitterness and the deep hatred I felt. My words were not eloquent, they were violent and passionate. I didn’t hold back. In the beginning, my anger was raw with no real definition; I just knew I was angry. I felt so angry and my words were so strong, that I was sure that God would keep his distance from me. However, after many weeks of almost daily weeding, by the time the weeds were gone I finally understood my anger. God had listened and even given some soothing perspective to my anger; to my surprise he understood.
Despite my journey through my anger, the exhaustion and despair still remained. When I found my garden in it’s original beautiful form I looked at it and examined it’s future. Some plants had grown beautifully during the summer, others not. In my mind I could see a new plan, one which still held the structure of the current garden, but expanded so I could increase it’s growth and fruit. I put in new garden beds, took out old unwanted trees, trimmed back unruly hedges, replenished the soil with compost and planted seeds. Everyday I went out to my new seeded garden beds to watch them grow. In the cooling autumn weather, their growth was slow, impossibly slow. The bare soil stared at me and did nothing. I watered the ground when it required, but nothing emerged. I wanted to peek below to see if my seeds were growing. I wondered if I should plant them again. Normally I would just buy seedlings, seeds planted by someone else, but due to isolation buying seedlings this season wasn’t an option. I had to use the seeds I had at home. Something I hadn’t planned and timing wise I wasn’t prepared for. Visiting the bare soil affected me deeply. The seeds were taking longer then they would normally. The nothingness found on my daily ventures to the bare soil consumed me more then it should have. To make matters worse my local friend was telling me how well her seeds were growing. The comparison to my seeds didn’t help. One day I looked at the soil and yelled to God, “I planted seeds, but they have no life in them. Every day nothing, absolutely nothing happens; no fruit, no life!” My words were so strong, I knew I wasn’t talking about the seeds I had planted in my new beds. I was talking about the seeds God asked me to plant in faith. I was talking about my own personal barren life. That day I sat looking at the bare soil and I understood. The soil, which over the last few weeks had brought anguish, was now soothing my aching heart. In that moment I knew God was speaking, he was using these natural seeds to demonstrate the importance of his timing. I may have planted the seeds, but I can’t make them grow. The seeds, while not visible to me, were there. However, for some reason in this season they were taking longer then normal. Eventually the seeds grew. Some, due to being covered with a protective clear plastic, grew at a faster rate in the warmth then those without. As I watched the natural seeds burst forth from the ground, I understood that whether I liked it or not the seeds in my own personal barren life also have their own timing and needs, such as warmth from the sun (something I can enhance, but personally can’t provide). Like the natural seeds, I just have to trust that they are there. I may be the gardener who planted the seeds, but I am not the one who brings life to those seeds. That is not within my control.
Even though God has felt so distant during this time I know that he is with me. The lost vigor for life, the deep loneliness and isolation has meant that the only thing getting me through each day has been choosing to plant new life in my garden. Over the years I have given a lot of myself, possibly to much. I am now empty and have nothing more I can give. Everyday I venture out to my garden and choose to do something life giving. I know what I do today in the garden will eventually reward me with fruit or beauty in weeks to come. There is something restorative about planting life in the midst of what feels like death. Whether it be planting 50 daffodil bulbs, weed or bug removal, planting new seeds and plants, restoring soil or trimming back old growth every one of these acts (some destructive) have future promise. Even just sitting in the garden is life-giving and restorative. As winter has come, growth has slowed and dormancy set in for some plants, even in the midst of domancy and slowed growth there is still promise of life. This week while in my garden I saw many others like me in the depths of despair, if this is you lets go out to the garden together and see the promise of life once more. In my mind I see my future garden, the promise of abundant flowers, fruit and life. Despite how I feel, the need to create something beautiful is calling me. Through the process of creating God is bringing healing. To you who is in darkness like me, blessings to you God’s sweet one xx