To catch up on Part One of "Circumstance," click here
Been back home in Washington about a week after a trip to California, my native soil. It was a reunion of sorts, with both my brothers and their families joining us at Dad and Mom's house in Penryn.
One of the things we did together was to till, plant, and play in the garden. As we worked, I thought . . .
The old garden is just about the same as it’s always been. Decomposed granite, softened by winter rains and milled fine by churning tines stirs a promise of productivity, a red-brown wake of hope turned up behind the same chugging tiller I used thirty years ago.
Things are the same, but different, too. I’m not an enterprising teenage boy anymore, eating my way to profits by consuming the produce I sell to Mom. My old nemesis, the nasty quack grass that grew in indomitable clumps isn’t around either. I don’t know what Dad did to kill out those weeds, but their absence is a real improvement to the garden plot.
What interests me is the stirring I feel as I pull a few weeds and watch the next generation till the same soil to make a garden for Grandpa and Grandma. Long ago I worked this ground, and it produced for me. One summer I earned sixty dollars selling vegetables to Mom, and in my mind I still carry a picture of an avenue of lush green beans—one section of my best garden ever. It was in the garden I experienced the joy of anticipation: waiting for buried seeds to birth fresh green life from the earth, hoping for the crop to come.
I wonder, “Did I do more for the garden, or did the garden do more for me?”
Left to its own, untended, this garden I once worked would have reverted to wilderness. Looking around, I spy my brother’s pear tree, planted at the bottom of the garden. Years ago it was swallowed by overarching oaks. My plum tree was cut down years ago.
Yes, I altered the soil, and employed it for a short time. But the long-term difference I made was pretty shallow, temporary at best. In a deeper sense, that soil altered me. I grew as I cared for it; I set my roots down into life and stretched upward to the sun as I weeded and watered, planted and picked. Each year as I formed it, it formed me. And the impress made on me was stronger, more enduring, than the tenuous dent I maintained in the wilderness.
Circumstance is a lot like my old garden plot: While we’re seeking to change it, God uses it to change us. When we’re sick, we look for a remedy; when we’re uncomfortable, we seek repose; when we’re in the midst of trial, we look for a way out. There’s nothing wrong with doing what we can, within the purpose of God, to change the things that distress us, but sometimes our Father brings us into difficulty for the purpose of altering us—not so that we can alter the difficulty.
Some of our most challenging circumstances are, for now, unchangeable. God has put us where we are for a purpose, though we do not know what His purpose is, and He has not given us the key to get out of our troubles. I can’t measure the amount of emotional energy I’ve poured out contriving to escape circumstance—when God’s intent was to change me through it.
So here’s a question that has helped me face circumstances I’d like to change—everyday circumstances that make me cringe and cry and complain. The question is: “If God could put me where ever He wants me, where would that be?”
The answer is startling: God wants me right where I am.
The fact is that God not only can put us right where He wants us, but He does. I’m not suggesting that we just ride the white-water of life, passively following the river of events without steering or sometimes paddling against the current. The purpose of God is not passivity but cooperation. He wants us to pull together with Him, to join Him in the arduous struggles of life. If the battlefield He has chosen is not to our liking, well, that’s one reason it’s a battlefield.
Asking myself, “If God could put me where ever He wants me, where would it be?” has given me a new lease on life in the middle of things I want to change, but can’t. Where’s the best place for me in God’s kingdom right now? Right where I am. Where can I be most useful for Christ? Right where I am. Where can I best impact this world? Right where I am . . .
. . . Even when that place is a mundane, undesirable, difficult task . . . Even when that place is sickness or pressure or misunderstanding . . . Even when that place magnifies my weaknesses and minimizes my strengths, when I feel useless and helpless and weary. Somehow, some way, God has a purpose for me here. He is more interested in advancing His kingdom than I am, and when I walk with Him, my experience cannot be less than the expression of His best plan.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not eager for a transplant from unpleasant circumstance, but it does mean that I’m ready for God to change me through it. I’m ready for Him to use me right where I am, to worship Him in the process of life. I’ve been planted in this soil for a purpose, and right now it’s the best place to grow.
© Robert G. Robbins, May 2012