This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children…..Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”
As my mother will tell you, I am not the best at planting gardens. Every summer when I was growing up, she would ask me if I wanted to plant my own vegetables in our family plot. I would always say yes, go out with her on the first day of rowing season, plop down a few carrot seeds, water them for the first three days of summer, and never tend to them again. Garden planting requires far more patience then younger me possessed, and my carrots only survived if my mother took enough pity on my vegetables to tend to them herself.
I’ve lived the life of a twenty-something for a while now, and the longer I spend in this distinctly un-permanent stage of life, the more I’ve come to appreciate the importance of planting gardens. One does invest the time and energy required to reap a harvest unless she knows that she is going to present long enough to see the process through.
The transitory nature of early adulthood can seriously inhibit one’s garden planting practice. Where are we to plant our seeds if a few months of the year are spent at school, a few months are at home, and a few months are in another city for a short-term job? I believe the answer most of us have to this question is “nowhere” — don’t put your seeds down at all, because to plant one day and to root everything up the next is a very painful process indeed. Think twice before you become too invested in any relationship, or too attached to any particular place, because chances are you’ll be saying goodbye to it all in a matter of weeks anyway.
The prophet Jeremiah had a thing or two to say about garden planting. In his letter to the Israelites, who had been forced from their home in Jerusalem and into Babylon by King Nebuchandnezzar, Jeremiah explicitly implored everyone to build homes, plant gardens, marry, have children, and plan to stay in the city of their exile. Immediately following his order comes the oft quoted passage from Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Granted, the Isrealites were in Babylon for seventy years, which allows for significantly more time for garden planting than does a three month summer job during college. But I’d venture to guess that if Jeremiah were writing a letter to those of us who are in a transitory phase our lives, he’d tell us the same thing he told the Isrealites. Regardless of where we are — no matter how difficult, or strange, or transitory it feels — we need to take seriously the task of planting gardens. We can’t just drop a few carrot seeds in the dirt, water them for three days, and expect our mothers to take care of the rest. No matter where we are in life, God has placed us there for a reason, and to fail to plant our garden is to forsake the plan He has for us.
And the thing about God’s plans is, we’ll never know what they are until after they have unfolded. Maybe, just maybe, the transitory, challenging, or difficult place you are today is exactly where God wants you to be forever, and by refusing to plant your seeds just because you believe you’ll just have to root them all up later is going to make you very hungry and miserable indeed.
So, allot the time and due diligence necessary to see your harvest all the way through, especially during your most transitory phases. Forge friendships with those around you, even if you believe time and distance may one day prevent you from ever seeing them again. Throw yourself into the work that is before you, even if you do not know its end goal or purpose. Let yourself grow roots and become attached, even if you think you know the date and time you are going to have to rip up them from the soil.
Do these things, but not without regular consultation with the Master Gardner, because the only thing more painful then having to uproot a beautiful garden planted in exactly the right place is to find out you’ve put your plot in a location that never belonged to you to begin with. If you are where the Gardener has asked you to be, however, plant and harvest in earnest, and you may come to find the small plot that you thought would be yours only for a summer turns into a home or a friendship that is yours for life. And as any good gardener will tell you, the harvests that bring the most blessing are often those that are unexpected.