I followed the familiar path, thankful for a chance to get outside. The air had a chill, but only the smallest patches of snow lay where the sun could not find them hidden beneath the shadows. Otherwise, the ground was dry.
In fact, everything was dry. The grass was brown and the trees stood bare. The leaves, the trees had dropped, crunched under my feet. There was little colour anywhere beyond brown, brown, and more brown.
I stepped through the fence and swept fallen leaves off the bench before sitting on it. I stared at the pond in front of me. It was empty. There was no water.
Our summer had been longer and more dry than most years. The pond that typically had at least a little water all year round – indeed, sometimes enough to skate on in the winter – now lay empty.
It was more than that, though. This fall, not only had the pond become empty, but the typically impassable gooey mud of the pond bed had dried out to the extent that the property owner was able to drive heavy machinery through the pond. I could still see the thick tread marks.
The heavy machinery had been used to push dirt around. A large mound lay to the side. Much of the pond bed was now raw exposed dirt.
Yet, as I sat there, I was not displeased at the sight of thick tread marks and mounds of dirt because I knew the purpose.
The property owner had dug the pond deeper. Why? To increase its capacity. When the winter snow melts and spring rains come, the pond will be able to hold even more water than before. This will make it less likely to dry out when the following summer turns to autumn.
This deepening of the pond bed was something the property owner could only do during the rare times when the pond dried up. Not only did the pond need to be empty for such work to be done, but the mud at the bottom of it needed to dry for long enough to support the weight of the heavy machinery without causing it to sink and get stuck.
I leaned back on the bench listening to the occasional bird call in the otherwise silent afternoon.
Surely there was something to be learned from this pond, a lesson I could learn.
A sober thought came to me.
It is only when I am empty that God can do the work of increasing capacity in me.
True, there are many ways God works in my life.
While the property owner could trim the bushes around the edge of the pond, or add stones to the path leading to it while it was full, there are some kinds of work he could not do until the pond was beyond empty.
Likewise, God can work in my life in many ways, but some kinds of deepening can only be done when I am empty – empty of myself.
So what is it that the Lord wants to increase my capacity for? Some things, such as His love, His joy, and abundant life, He wants to give everyone who believes. Not a problem-free life, but a life marked with the inexpressible joy and peace that only comes from Him.
In John 10:10b, Jesus said, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” (CSB)
Other translations say, “have it to the full.” (NIV2011)
Paul prayed that God would enable the Ephesians to “know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19 CSB)
Next time I am feeling empty and surrounded by the browns of a winter not even brightened with snow, I hope I will remember not to panic. Instead, I ought to seek God and trust that this is the time when He can do His work of increasing capacity in me for more of Him.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 CSB)
A while back, I decided to do an experiment. With COVID-19 concerns circling around, I figured it would be nice to have a homegrown supply of fresh lettuce so that, if we did get quarantined, we could still have fresh vegetables to eat along with our non-perishable pantry items.
With this in mind, and since it was too cold to plant outside where I live, I found a planter, filled it with dirt, and planted some lettuce seeds.
For the following weeks, I kept an eye on the plants as I watered them. Sure enough, the seedlings came up, though not all of them. I’d known some of the seeds might not come up, so I wasn’t entirely surprised.
I kept watering and observing the plants as they sat in my kitchen window. A few weeks after the seedlings sprouted, however, I began to suspect a problem. They weren’t getting enough sun.
Once I realized this and began moving the planter to various windows throughout the day or leaving it outside when the afternoons were warm enough, the lettuce began to grow strong.
I tell you all this to set the backdrop of what I really want to focus on.
Because some of the seeds hadn’t sprouted, the planter had sections of dirt that were bare and not growing anything. I wanted to change that.
Having realized that the lettuce needed more sunlight than the window provided, I decided to plant something else in those empty spaces.
Radishes, I thought. They grow easily and quickly. Therefore, I found a few radish seeds and hid them in the dirt where nothing was growing.
A couple of days later, as I went to water the lettuce, I poured the water where the lettuce plants needed it, then I poured water on those blank empty spaces of dirt.
In my head (I don’t think I said it out loud, though I may have) I told the lettuce plants, “You don’t know what I’m doing, but I do.”
It seems like a silly statement, especially when addressed to plants. Yet, when I think about it, I believe I can learn something from it.
From the lettuce’s perspective, I’d just given them the water they needed. Then, for no apparent reason, I poured water where no visible plant was growing.
It’ll probably be a few more days until the radishes show their heads. Until then the lettuce will continue to wonder why I would water the lifeless dirt rather than just watering the plants.
I wonder how often God has used me to water what to me appeared to be empty lifeless dirt?
It could be a random conversation I had with someone at the bus stop, or a smile I gave the woman who was clearly having a hard day. Perhaps it’s even a Facebook post with a Bible verse. I don’t know.
Some of these moments seem small and insignificant to me. Some of them feel random and impulsive, but maybe, just maybe, God is using those moments to water the unseen seeds that will begin to sprout one day.
I might wonder at what God is doing, and why He pours the perfectly good water on the lifeless dirt. It might appear to be a waste, but with God, nothing is wasted.
God knows what He is doing.
My job is to trust and keep following Him.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58 CSB
I recently spent a week volunteering at a summer camp. It was a blast as always! This summer we played a game we call “Leader Hide and Seek.”
The game is simple. Eight or so leaders hide throughout the campsite. The campers travel as teams trying to find the leaders. When found, the leader signs the campers’ signature card. The campers then continue hunting for the other leaders. The team of campers with the most signatures at the end wins.
They gave us leaders a head start while they explained the game to the campers. As I trotted away from the group, I pondered where to hide. The trees near the cabins worked well last time I played, but I saw two or three others heading that way. Perhaps I could duck behind the fire pit walls? No, the campers were sure to find me there.
Instead, I headed toward the teepee. However, again, several leaders were heading the same direction. Perhaps the long grass in the poplar tree stand would give me enough cover. When I got there, the grass simply didn’t seem thick enough. Perhaps that was due to the hot, dry summer we’d had.
I frowned. There had to be a good hiding place around. I eyed the nearby clusters of bushes. They had sparse wild raspberries growing around the outside, but in the middle, thick stalks of a bush with large leaves would serve me well.
As I burrowed my way into the largest bush, I was glad I’d worn long pants and a long sleeve sweater with a hood since some of the plants were prickly. I found a clear enough space inside the bush where I could crouch down, hiding even my face from sight.
By now, I could hear campers on the move. I stayed motionless as some drew near on their way to the teepee.
When their voices drifted away, I allowed myself to sit up in an attempt to relieve the numbness from my crouched legs.
Again voices drew near. I lowered myself and crouched motionless. It seemed one of the teams was arguing amongst themselves.
“But I want to pick some raspberries.”
I froze. If they paused to pick raspberries, they’d likely spot me. Maybe I’d chosen a bad hiding place!
Another teammate spoke up. “We need to check by the teepee.”
“But I want raspberries.”
“Don’t get distracted. We need to stay focused and find more leaders.”
“Oh, fine. One more raspberry, then I’m coming.”
I didn’t dare release my breath until all their voices had faded considerably. That had been close. Their teammate’s distraction had almost led them to their goal – finding a leader.
I laughed at the irony of it. We typically consider distractions to be bad. They are what keep us from reaching our goals. This time, however, the distraction of raspberry picking nearly led them right to their goal.
As I sat quietly in my hiding spot waiting for someone to find me, I pondered the irony of it. The distraction, quite the opposite of being a hindrance, had so nearly enabled them to achieve their goal.
I wondered if there might be an allegory for me to learn from. Are there things in my life which I class as distractions that are actually the key to succeeding if only I’d give them space?
Now, please don’t misunderstand. There are many bad and destructive distractions that exist to sidetrack a person and reek havoc in their life. Therefore, careful discernment and weighing of good and evil in light of what the Bible teaches us is necessary.
Having said that, I do believe there are times when what I classify as a distraction from reaching my goal, is actually the very best thing I could be doing to help accomplish God’s goal for my life.
In Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV we read,
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”
Sometimes, perhaps far more often than I realize, my primary goal or plan is not what God has in mind. His plans are better.
Perhaps the clearest example of this we find in the Bible is the story of Mary and Martha. I’ll summarize it here, but to read the whole story go to Luke 10:38-42.
Martha welcomed Jesus and His disciples into her home. She hustled about busily serving her guests. Her sister Mary, however, did not help her. Instead, she sat near Jesus listening to His words.
When Martha asked Jesus to tell her sister, Mary, to help her, Jesus replied,
“‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41b-42 NASB)
Martha’s goal was to serve and host Jesus and His disciples. From her perspective, Mary was distracted. Rather than helping Martha accomplish her goal, Mary sat idly listening.
Jesus’ perspective was different. He knew that, while there are times to serve, there are also times when the very best thing we can do is pause to listen to His Word.
So what do I classify as a distraction?
At camp there were times when I had somewhere to be and a job to get done, but a couple of the campers wanted to chat. Did I brush them off as a distraction? Or did I pause in my busyness to take a few minutes to connect with them?
What about in my daily life? Do I take time to read the Bible? Do I allow myself needed rest? Do I pause to connect with those around me even when the dishes are begging to be washed?
I suspect that in every season of my life there will be something I am tempted to classify as a distraction, when really it is the very thing God would have me make time for.
What about in your life? What have you deemed a distraction which may actually be the very thing God wants you to be doing?
A few years back, I had the opportunity to live in Germany for a time. The place where I lived included a sizable yard. Often in the mornings, I would stroll through the yard enjoying the freshness of the air before the day got started. One corner of the yard even offered a view of the nearby lake.
Then one morning, as fall crept near, a fine mist greeted me. A low dense fog hung in the air so thick I could feel it. The sky was grey and the view of the lake was gone. The grass in the yard, though cut short, quickly soaked my shoes and pant legs. The whole world seemed damp and grey and mysterious.
As I strolled through the yard that foggy morning, I saw something I’d never seen before. The hedge that lined one fence was spotted with spider webs!
I’d walked along that very hedge countless times, never noticing a single web, but now they stood out vividly!
Puzzled, I moved closer. I stooped to study one. To my astonishment, every strand of the web held tiny droplets of mist. As a result, the web was illuminated against the green of the hedge.
While spiders are certainly not my favourite critters, I couldn’t help but appreciate the intricate beauty of these glistening webs! At the same time, knowing just how many spider webs existed on those hedges was a little unnerving.
Later that morning, I was able to slip outside for a few minutes again. The world seemed completely transformed. The sun shone warm and friendly. The sky was blue. Not a hint of the mist from the morning remained. Not a single spider web shone with droplets. The beauty of it was gone. Only my memory of the stunningly intricate webs remained. (Until the next morning, that is, when the fog again hung low.)
So why do I share this memory now? What significance does it have?
Sometimes in my life, it feels as though a fog looms near, grey and heavy. Such fog makes it hard to see what I’m doing or where I’m going. Yet in the midst of the grey-ness, the fog illuminates something in me.
Just as the fog illuminated the spider webs, so in my life the fog sometimes brings visibility to things I had not seen before. Perhaps those things will be stunning webs of intricate design. However, they may be ugly, messy strands of cobweb sending a shiver of disgust down my spine.
The Bible uses a different illustration to explain that the way we’ve spent our lives will become visible one day.
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15 ESV)
Perhaps the foggy seasons in my life are God’s way of giving me a sneak preview of how I’ve been living? Have I been using my life to build what has lasting beauty, or have I been building with straw and hay, mere cobwebs that will be swept away?
When the fog illuminates those unseen parts of my life, may I remember to bring every concern straight to God. He can help me learn to build what has lasting beauty so that, when the fog rolls in, I may not be ashamed of what I see.
Then I can join Paul in saying:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV)
(If you want to see the incredible spider web photos I used in their original state, you can view them on Unsplash here.)