Strive to be the good soil

As an advocate for the least, lost and left out, I am often pigeon-holed as caring only about “those” people—the chronically homeless, the addicted, the sick and otherwise undesirable.

If someone’s practicality is disrupted enough by my advocacy, they might even ask why a person who has had three chances should continue to be accepted when there are plenty of people who haven’t had one chance.

I’ve meandered my way through any number of logical answers over the years, but finally landed at a monumental conclusion. It’s not my job.

Consider this in the many different ways we might analyze the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23).

Often, this passage is used to explain how “we” should avoid the rocks, the thorns, the trampled path. “We” should seek out the good soil as indication that we hear the word, understand it and are acting appropriately upon it. “We” are the seed in this interpretation and, therefore, we expect the same of everyone else.

One of many problems with this interpretation is that it implies that all seeds are the same in the elements required for healthy growth—same season, same climate, same water and sun exposure.

If that were the case, I want to know why cacti can’t bud in Alaska and avocados can’t grow in my backyard. More than likely, seeds that depend on the exact same conditions have less opportunity to bear a diversity in their fruit, as well.

Being the seed, and only the seed, in this parable means accepting full responsibility in an ecosystem that actually requires many types of soil, sun, rain and a gardener to exist. What a horrible burden to bear alone.

Alas, the responsibility we place upon ourselves to be the seed is eventually projected on seeds that have not yet learned they are worthy of bearing fruit at all. And when we choose to leave those seeds to their own devices, they will succumb to the thorns, the rocks, the trampled path before they ever had a chance to thrive.

Now, I will be the first to say that I really like thinking of myself as the seed.

Seemingly, the seed gets do something. It has influence, control, it grows and becomes something. It bears fruit for God’s sake!

And that alone makes it difficult to see myself in any other part of the story. I’ve never been a very good gardener. I certainly don’t want to be the rocks, the thorns or the trampled path. And the soil just waits and hopes that something good will happen.

But seeing myself as the seed, and only the seed, diminishes the critical role of the soil.

It’s actually harder to be the good soil, churned and tilled, made and remade, worked from the inside out by all the other components of the ecosystem. The seed gets to become something, but the soil does the most vital work in bringing its true purpose into fruition.

In work, life and ministry, this is a harsh reality in which we wrestle. We want so badly to do something and to be something that we resort to judgement when others are not meeting our standards of achievement. We walk away and pick another project, when our efforts to be the seed in others’ lives feel unproductive. And let’s face it, when we base our own fruitfulness on that which occurs in the lives of our neighbors, our disappointment and frustration with their lack of progress has more to do with our own dissatisfaction in ourselves than it ever had to do with them.

Being the soil frees us from fixing our fellow seeds, and it empowers us to simply receive them. We are the bed in which they find comfort and warmth. We are the space filled with nutrients, giving the seed whatever it needs to grow. God brings the rain, the sun and a gardener to carefully remove the rocks, thorns and foot traffic so that every seed might have a chance.

It is not our job to put a timeline or cap on those chances.

Of all things, scientists say, seeds know how to wait. Many seeds take more than an entire year to grow. A cherry tree can wait over 100 years before it even breaks through the soil. And once, an ancient lotus seed was coddled to growth and carbon dated back 2,000 years. The right temperature-moisture-light combination is important, and if we strive to be the good soil where that can take place, time will tell what amazing fruit might grow when and if the seed is ready.

Meghann Cotter is executive director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that offers holistic care to the Fredericksburg’s street homeless.

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