I’ve been learning a lot from my garden this year. In the spring, I was pulling volunteer tomato sprouts out of one of my vegetable beds. I found it painful to rip up these thriving new plants, all those free tomatoes, a gift from last year’s crop. It felt wasteful, even wrong, to rip them up by their roots. And a little voice whispered inside my mind, There are too many of them. I knew the voice wasn’t talking about tomatoes. It was talking about my life—about the way I want to hold on to everything good. I had to tear out the tomato starts or they would crowd out the carrots, beets, and shallots I had planted. Given how many of them there were, they would even crowd out one another. If I let them all grow, probably none of them would thrive. So I pulled them out, one by one, and I thought about what good things I needed to lay down in my own life so that other good things could thrive.
This is an ongoing question in contemporary life when we have so many options—so many good options—for how we spend our time. The way I answer this question is going to be different from anyone else. The older I get, the less I feel the need to justify my own choices. For instance, I don’t do social media. Goodness know, I’ve tried. But it is simply not sustainable at this time in my life. I know I miss a lot by not being on any of the various platforms or apps. And it certainly has consequences, especially when it comes to my writing life. But I’ve learned to be okay with that. For me, social media is a tomato sprout that has to be pulled to make room for the things I value more.
One of those things is silence. The older I get, the more I crave stillness and silence. I’m a very social introvert—I love people and want to be friends with far more people than my finite energy can sustain—and I find that with each passing year, I seem to need ever more silence to replenish my energy, to fill the well of my creative life, to enable me to connect with God and remain rooted and grounded in Him.
But everything in our culture fights against silence. I think we are afraid of it. I think we are just plain afraid. Constant noise and stimulation distract us from our fear, but they can’t help us face it or deal with it, or even acknowledge it. We are a culture addicted to noise—whether auditory or visual, internal or external. We live in a sea of sound and fury. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I don’t have to justify my need for silence. I don’t have to defend it. But I do have to choose it in the face of everything and everyone who would tell me silence is pointless, that it is a waste of time.
Once again, my garden comes to my aid to help me understand that silence is neither pointless nor a waste of time. Very few people see me working in my yard, and I don’t go around telling them. But if you came to my house, you would know, without my ever telling you, which parts of my yard I care about: my bed of roses and peonies, and my vegetable beds. How would you know this? Because those are the parts that are weeded and watered, where the plants and flowers are thriving. The fruits of my labor speak for themselves. You would also know where I don’t work, because the weeds are taking over and the grass is brown, and the plants are languishing for lack of water. Again, my lack of labor speaks for itself.
My choice to spend time in my yard (or not) is evident in the yard itself. So, too, in my spiritual life. My choice to spend time in silence, prayer, meditation on God’s word (or not) will be evident in my life itself. The silence may be invisible, inaudible, but its fruit is not.
And the fruit of choosing not to spend time in silence will also be plain. I will be frazzled, harassed, hurried, worried, anxious, and eventually angry. Which seems to me the way most people in our culture live their lives. It’s certainly the way I lived for almost two decades. It’s not really living. It’s just survival. Life requires silence. It requires rooting and grounding in God, who hides in plain sight and speaks in a still small voice. To see and hear Him, that is, to become aware of His presence, requires that we get quiet. We have to let the noise die away in the distance, let the silt settle to the bottom of the pond, let the water of our souls cease its frenzied rippling and be still.
This is invisible work. It’s the planting of a seed in the soil, or the pulling of tomato sprouts. Not glitzy or glamorous, not heroic or heraldic, certainly nothing to write home about. And yet—it’s not really invisible after all. For silence bears fruit. When we become a still clear pond, or a thriving garden, others will know. They will be drawn to our stillness, our thriving. In a culture as shrill and shriveled as ours has become, people are dying for a cup of cool water, for a place to sit in the shade. I want to be the cup of cool water, the shady garden. And I can only become that if I am drinking deeply from the Living Water, rooting myself ever more deeply in the Ground of All Being.
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes for its leaves shall stay green. In the year of drought it is not anxious, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8
The exquisite featured image is from Julie Jablonski and used with her permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. We are grateful and rejoice in celebrating her beautiful work.
K.C. Ireton is the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. An avid reader, she is especially fond of old books and home-schools her four children so that she can spend her days reading and learning all sorts of interesting things. K.C. is pleased as punch to be writing for The Cultivating Project!