I’ve come to believe that in the middle of our deepest pain, heartache, and tragedy lay the seeds of our highest good. Stories flourish of those who’ve taken debilitating illnesses, the deaths of loved ones, or countless other traumas and through those adversities done great things. Dr. Keith Jowers used a divorce twenty years ago to create Dads4Life, a non-profit organization that teaches fathers how to stay involved in their children’s lives after divorce and separation. Marvin James used two failed marriages and other seemingly insurmountable obstacles to write the book, The Secret of Marriage. Chuck Colson took his seven-month stint in a federal penitentiary to launch Prison Fellowship, an organization that has helped thousands of incarcerated men find the love and peace of an inscrutable God. Peel back the layers to many of history’s most magnanimous efforts and suffering is routinely at their core.
I was recently sitting with a group of teenage boys who had drifted off the straight path and onto a road more winding. Some had drug addictions, for others it was alcoholism, while a few were more troubled. They are part of a program that, among other things, points them in the direction of their true God shaped identity, one far different from the helpless throwaways they and much of the world consider them.
Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted. — Matthew 13:8 NLT
Our topic that evening was the Parable of the Sower. As we concluded Jesus’s lesson, I kept noodling this idea of ‘fertile soil’ and particularly what it reveals about how we ought to think on adversity and hardship in our lives.
My grandfathers were avid gardeners. If I hadn’t known better, I would swear they were in competiton for who could grow the best tomatoes and largest squash. One day each spring, whether by reading tealeaves or the Farmers Almanac, they would commence another gardening campaign with a practice known as ‘ground breaking’. Over the winter months their gardens would sit fallow, or barren, and overrun with weeds. Fallow earth is hard, tough, and infertile. Fallow ground doesn’t grow much of anything good. Being fallow means being dormant and vacant. Nothing fruitful grows on fallow earth.
They needed to break through that hardness to make the ground fertile again; to get it ready for another year of corn, potatoes, and okra. Papaw, my paternal grandfather used a ’47 Farmall Model-A tractor. Gocky, my maternal one, used Kate, a chestnut mare. Regardless of the power plant, the equipment was the same. They needed something that would break the ground, that would carve out, rake across, and till through – they needed a plow. With the plow they turned that patch of world inside out and upside down. Only through struggle and difficulty could they make the dirt ready to take seed and bear fruit for another season.
In the Parable of the Sower, the ground represents you and I. The hard ground along the path, the earth among the rocks and thorns, and the good soil each depicts the potential of our hearts. And though seed fell among them all, it only bore fruit in fertile ground. And as my grandfathers demonstrated every spring, good ground is broken ground. Good ground has been put to the plow.
I’m often asked why I started writing this blog. What was the motivation for opening myself up this way? I first believed I’d be Oprah’s next protégé, complete with my own show. When that naturally didn’t occur – I am however still waiting for the phone to ring – I arrived at a more sincere reason. Recognizing how fortunate I was to divorce when my kids were still in diapers and thus able to hide my ensuing mistakes behind their naptime, I hoped to use those experiences and the their lessons to give other not so fortunate single parents, especially single dads, something new to consider. Through the pain of that divorce almost a decade ago I wanted to give others what was never given to me – the possibility of another way
As I considered the lives of these boys and the plow that is ripping through them, I couldn’t help thinking how all this breaking up isn’t without purpose. Put to the plow, these boys are being made ready to produce fruitful crops when seeds of opportunity begin to fall. Maybe those seeds come by way of another ministry, maybe they work with other kids in their schools, or perhaps, they simply help guide a similarly troubled soul along the hard steep path they’ve previously trodden.
Yet don’t we all have similar opportunities? No life has been spared the plow. All have had their worlds turned upside down and inside out. In the face of adversity we’re quick to ask, ‘why?’ ‘Why has this happened to me?’ I certainly did. Why was I ripped from my children? Why were my hopes and dreams smashed by the hands of another man? But over time I’ve come to understand that ‘why’, though an honest and valid question, will never bring us our desperately longed for peace. When our lives are plowed up, I think the necessary question becomes, ‘what’. What can I to do with my sadness, heartache, and brokenness? What can I take with this newly cultivated ground and produce that is fruitful? What can you do with yours?
When life plows through us and we’re left scarred and broken we have but two choices. We can take our fertile heart and grow something wonderful and better. Maybe it’s creating a blog to share your own story and offer others hope. Perhaps it’s writing a book or starting a support group for those not as far along the path. Or maybe it’s just being there for a stranger because you know and understand.
The second option is to do nothing and allow that fertile soil to once again become fallow, turning barren and fruitless.
By allowing the plow of adversity and hardship to cultivate our hearts and minds we’re made ready so when the seeds of opportunity begin to fall we too may produce a crop that is thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times more than was planted.