The other night I found myself in a panic as I noted the wilted appearance of my beautiful container gardens. How had I forgotten to water them? How could I neglect something so beautiful - something that brings my heart joy every time I pause to look?
Then it hit me - I've not been paying attention. I haven't stopped to really look. Usually, by this time of the year, we live in a brown parched land; we are enjoying 'missionary showers' to conserve the water in our well, and often the ground is cracked and crazed like an old china plate. The grass dies and the weeds just hold hands and flourish. The weekly mowing ceases, the sprinklers that keep the Country Club and mansions in our neighborhood lush and green go constantly, and I am watering my annual containers twice a day with carefully saved bathwater, dishwater and laundry water. It's a huge chore - requiring an investment in both time and energy, but I do it faithfully because it is absolutely necessary to keep the gardens alive. Usually.
This year, I have been lulled into a false sense of security by the wonderfully regular weekly rains that we have enjoyed. The grass is still green and growing, and the trees are full and lush where normally they would be beginning to curl and brown around the edges. The plants that are deeply rooted are growing by leaps and bounds, and my perennials and shrubs have required more pruning than ever before. We are not experiencing those near-drought conditions for the first summer since we moved here. The farmers are hoping for bumper crops to make up for the low yields resulting from the winds of 'Ike' which flattened their crops last season. It's been really nice - a blessing in fact.
Even so, my annuals are planted in small containers, and even when it rains enough to keep the grass green, it's not enough for those little vessels. My annuals are not deeply rooted, and they are really water hogs. As I carefully watered just before sundown, I began to see some parallels in my life, and my own times of 'spiritual drought'.
I never choose to go through a dry time in my walk with the Lord. Like the false sense of security I felt because we were getting a pretty good amount of rain, I am often lulled into a dry season by thinking that the little bits of God's Word that I am pondering are enough to keep me going. If I hear a good message from the pastor on Sunday, catch the occasional radio ministry, or just do my devotional sort of regularly, I think I'll be fine. I forget that my spirit needs more than just a random sprinkling - I need to be watered deeply. That means spending time reading and meditating on God's Word. Not easy for a busy mom plagued by chronic illness, but really, who is it easy for? I can't use any excuse. I may not be in the season of life where I can devote hours to studying the Word, but I can certainly take more time than the three minutes it takes to read 'Our Daily Bread'. For me, it's finding a balance. I usually like to take notes during our Sunday School class and the message and try to look up those verses that were hard to understand, challenging or just plain new to me. Spending time reading them, writing them out and looking them over during the week helps to keep me deeply watered by the Word.
It's easy to neglect my container gardens when we are on the go, busy with other things or stuck in the house during a storm. I don't take the time to really look and see if all is well with my plants. Dry spiritual times often come for me just after a difficult trial, simply because I've been focused on other things and fail to pay attention. I sometimes forget the truth of 1 Peter 5:8
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
The middle of a trial is not the time to let down your guard! Those 'urgent plea' prayers are effective and assuredly answered, but they can't be the full extent of my communication with God. I need to take time to really pray, with confession, thanksgiving, praise and petitions - not just one quick S.O.S.!
I noticed that my parched and wilted flowers where suffering from a case of hardened compacted soil. The earth in my containers was so dried up that even the moisture granules that I add every year were collected into tight lumps. I couldn't even make a dent with my finger! I gently sprayed a small amount of water slowly, directly on the soil and walked to the next plant, giving each one just a bit of water to begin with. Later, I gave them the full soaking they needed, and by morning they were their old perky selves. The soil was softened, pliable and ready to soak up the life giving moisture that came in the form of rain last night.
The dry hard soil reminded me of my own hard heart. Sometimes, in the midst of a trail or a dry spell, I am guilty of hardening my heart to the Lord. I forget that God is aware of our struggles, and that He is present in the hard times as well as our times of blessing. I forget His past faithfulness to us, and allow our small difficulties to grow way out of proportion in my mind. I forget the goodness and grace of our God and I stubbornly hold on to my belief that nothing but a big old miracle can calm the storm for me.
There is only one cure for my hardened heart - praise. The other day when I was so very down, my Historian recommended that I just go to the kitchen, strap on my apron and put on some praise and worship. He knows me very well. At first I grumbled. I didn't want to praise the Lord for yet another struggle. I was pretty content with my hard heart and my pity party.
I put on some slow quiet praise music and tackled the dishes and counter first. I had to clean up the clutter before I could make any headway. It took about twenty minutes for the sparkling counter and quiet praise to do their work - and then I turned up the music, pulled out the mixing bowls and began to hum along. Within an hour I had confessed my hard heart and lack of faith in God's provision, and my heart was lifted in praise to the Rock of my salvation. My taste testers, who had been hiding from the grumpy Mama, came quietly into the kitchen for hugs and cookies, and to sing along. Never underestimate the power of praise in softening the soil of your heart and preparing you for the blessings to come!
Times of dryness leave my with two choices. I can get back to doing what I know is right or turn my back on the faithfulness of God. One of the very first verses I learned as a child was 1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
God is faithful - even in times of drought. He will provide a way to draw me back into a warm, vital relationship with Him. I just need to stay in the Word, remember His past faithfulness, spend time in prayer, and keep on praising Him! These are the things that are absolutely necessary to keep the garden of my heart thriving!
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.