“Oh it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them – that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”
– Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
We’ve just come out the graduation season where thousands upon thousands of kids have been told to follow their dreams. That the world is their oyster and they have only to claim their adventures. The moon needs only a lasso around it and it belongs to them. What a wonderful gift hope can be. Good things have been done in this world by people who were ambitious dreamers. Folks who didn’t get bogged down with pesky details like ‘reality’. This quote from the film “Amazing Grace” could be read at any graduation: “…we’re too young to realize that certain things are impossible, so we do them anyway.” We need individuals like that in the service of the Creator.
These “Peter Pans” are inspiring, especially when we find ourselves relating more to an older Wendy and her confession that she has forgotten how to fly. Worry and responsibility have compelled many of us to stop trying and to just make do. We have forgotten our birthright of fancy and dreams. What a wonderful thing it is to be reminded by the young and ‘naïve’ that life is still open with possibilities and that faith and trust (and a little pixie dust) go a long way in our fight against the darkness.
But we are not residents of Neverland. We do grow up and grow old. We are bound to our bodies which occupy but one place in all of space. We are creatures that must swim in the stream of time. You will never live in this moment again. This breath is now gone. In comes another, only to be exhaled. Our memories are not perfect time capsules but rather leaky containers of faded and distorted flashes. Children grow every day, never to be as young as they were yesterday. Seasons change in a cycle, but our world was not the same last spring as it is in this. And one day, we shall all meet an end to this life. Our ambitions will cease, and our striving will end. Our physical ruins will find their place in the dirt while our families and friends hold all that remains of us in their own leaky containers of memory. “From dust you are, to dust you shall return.”
We struggle with the finite nature of life and can become discouraged when scripture tells us to ‘number our days’. We try to resist the notion that since our lives and work will not last forever, then all our efforts are futile. Yet we may draw some comfort from the notion that our very worry about the passage of time is actually an indicator that we were made to inhabit a world where time and death are not our natural environments! “For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.” (Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis) This incongruity suggests that posthumously we may still be and become what we can only speculate at now. That this life is NOT the end of us. That our ‘fins’ shall turn to ‘feet’ and we will one day walk upon that far shore of the undying lands. But while we remain ‘under the sea’, we know because of what scripture and nature and our own personal experience tell us, that THIS life has boundaries. A place where it is, and a place where it isn’t. Our lives have a limit. A border. A span, but that span has a beginning and an end. A place where our lives can be cultivated and flourish, and then a place where they will cease. Our job is to embrace this given and to seek how best to thrive within the borders of our life’s garden bed.
“I’m just as ambitious as ever. Only I’ve changed the object of my ambitions. I’m going to be a good teacher – and I’m going to save your eyesight. … Oh, I’ve dozens of plans, Marilla. I’ve been thinking them out for a week. I shall give life here my best, and I believe it will give its best to me in return.”
– Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
How do we choose which way to go when it seems like options are limitless, even if time is not? How do we find contentment in a path we have chosen or, as it feels sometimes, a path has chosen us? How do we find the joy in what G. K. Chesterton wrote to a friend, “Yea, there is strength in striking root and good in growing old.”? We so often confuse self-determination with the notion that we must do whatever our impulses dictate. To spend our energies chasing after the wind. To turn left and then right and then left again depending on what catches our eye from moment to moment. To jump from one thing to another, never mastering anything, never reaching a sense of completeness and never feeling an obligation to anything but our own appetites. But isn’t true liberty choosing a path that will lead to the flourishing of our families, communities and ourselves – even when that path requires a narrowing, a focusing, a selecting and a rejecting of other options? Isn’t freedom more in the choosing of a place, a discipline, a community, a calling, a family, and then settling down, and making that patch thrive with an abundance that could never be achieved without order and creativity? Facilitating the best of what can flourish within a boundary of intention and care?
Maybe our hearts echo Eden, a time when there was no need to worry about time. A place when we were free to walk with God in the cool of the day. Or maybe they foretaste the New Jerusalem, where there will be no numbered days or nights. When we will be with our God again, and He will be our light. But for this life, our days are numbered, and our earthly life requires us to choose what we should attend to. It also requires us to choose what we shouldn’t.
An artist selects a canvas to paint on. A canvas is a boundary. A limitation in one sense. But the limitation is chosen, and flourishing happens. I got to stand before my first Van Gogh last month. Coincidentally, it was his painting “Irises”, a beautiful work done from the garden of the asylum he committed himself to in the south of France. Did I consider it restricted by the dimensions of the canvas? NO! It was beautiful in many ways BECAUSE the work was curated in one space. Van Gogh could focus on making this one area beautiful. He could bring creative attention and light and color and life to this one canvas. What a gift!
It is fascinating that God chose the Garden of Eden for cultivation, but then chose where it would not extend. Even if the original intent was for Adam & Eve to take the flourishing from within, and bring that flourishing out to the entire world, there was still the need to give focus and attention to one specific plot of land first. God could have chosen to make the whole earth Eden. All 196.9 million square miles of it. But it seems He wanted to work WITH His children, and He wanted to start small. One man, one woman, one garden. Intention and creativity brought to its fullest potential in one spot before extending their energy and attention beyond.
To flourish, to bring in an abundance, we must choose a plot.
A place to plant and a place to pull weeds. A place to nourish the soil and a place to pull more weeds. A place to water and a place to trim back trees so the sun can get through. A place to harvest… after pulling more weeds. Oh, to be sure, cross pollination can be very beneficial and sometimes different pursuits can complement and enhance each other. Our gardens may benefit greatly when our ambitions and hopes and dreams take form within it. But if our plot is bigger than what we are called to manage well, and has more weeds than we can rightly pull, then we may need to consider that we have not properly chosen the borders of our garden.
Where we set our boundaries may determine how our garden flourishes into order, or how it falls into chaos.
This is not an endorsement for complacency, nor should we ignore parts of our divine inheritance that God has so graciously given to us. We also shouldn’t seek to mandate the boundaries of the gardens of others, nor restrict ourselves out of fear of failure when God calls us to widen our borders. Sometimes He may widen them beyond what we believe ourselves able and capable to care for properly, yet He calls us to go forth and be fruitful, and so we must. There is grace for our inevitable struggles against the thorns and thistles of the cursed ground and our decaying bodies. And there are lifecycles to every garden. Sometimes our work will yield plenty, and some years it will produce little. There will also be times when the earth must rest, and we will be called to cultivate another space all-together. Grateful for the gifts of that soil, but following our directive to work the ground elsewhere. It is worthy to remember that a small, thriving garden fit for harvest may be a better agent for flourishing than a thousand acres that has been tilled, sporadically planted, under watered and overgrown with weeds.
Anne’s horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen’s; but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would bloom along it. The joy of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams. And there was always the bend in the road!
“God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” whispered Anne softly.
– Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Where will we flourish today? Where will we choose to draw our boundaries? Where has God given us space to participate in His work, and where is the border He has laid to let us know He does not need us to worry for what lies beyond it… for now?
The featured image is (c) of Lancia E. Smith and used with glad permission for The Cultivating Project.
Adam is a vagabond of the arts. He is an animator by training, a media specialist by vocation and a writer by hobby. Though he “still hasn’t found what he’s looking for”, in his wandering through the arts he has found the firm conviction that God has been writing His story through our stories since the beginning, and He’s not done yet. Adam and his wife Sarah have 3 children and live in Northern Colorado. His artistic interests range from G.K. Chesterton to Looney Tunes.