Lessons From the Garden

Over the past 4 years, I have attempted to grow a vegetable garden in our yard. It’s been a failure, but only by the number of harvestable plants. What hasn’t failed is the process of illuminating personal areas in my life that need attention. I’m glad to learn, but I still want to harvest fruits and veggies from the labor and work that I’ve exerted.

So this year, we’ve built the Taj Mahal of gardens: Raised beds, mulched walkways, good soil, organic seeds, a fence with treated posts, and a few other bells and whistles. The building process has taken a lot of time, money, and energy. One thing we do know is that deer, rabbits, and other animals won’t be bothering our plants as in years past. We learned from our mistakes over the previous 4 years and developed a plan, and then executed it.

Every day I’m outside walking around, pulling weeds, pruning, and taking care of the plants. It’s tedious work, and lots of fun. It’s the one place at home where I can go and feel God’s presence. It’s like my own personal sanctuary. I pray, meditate, listen, and talk as I’m wandering around.

There are a few life lessons that I’m learning and considering from my daily 5-10 minute ‘garden walks.’

Patience is part of the process.
We planted our seeds 3-4 weeks ago and 7 of our 8 beds have sprouted. Last week I noticed one bed that didn’t appear to have anything growing in it besides a couple of patches of clover-like weeds. Thinking that we did not plant the seeds right, I replanted the entire bed. After telling my wife what’d I’d done, she lovingly smiled and told me I’d mistakenly pulled the clover-like sprouts. They were actually the lettuce we’d planted.

As is usually the case with much of life, she was right. I conceded to her that I’d gotten impatient and pulled up something I ought to have given more time to grow.

In my haste to see plants grow, and reap the harvest of my hard work, I sabotaged what was steadily and slowly growing. I fell victim to what many of us do on a daily basis: instant gratification. Gardens are not microwaves, nor is life or relationships. Often I will want something from my marriage or in life that hasn’t had time to grow.

Tending to what’s seen
In a similar light to patience, there have been days that I’ve gone out to my garden two or three times in one day and fiddle around with the dirt, watering, or the general area. I’m sometimes looking too hard for what’s going to be the next problem, weed issue, or area that will require my time. In doing so, I miss out on enjoying what’s in front of me.

Those of us who struggle with anxiety tend to be on the lookout for what’s “next” on the to do list. In relationships, this can take the shape of trying too hard to work on something that’s not really an issue.

When my wife is stressed, I tend to get over cautious and anxious about what’s happening with her. What’s difficult in those situations is that I’m trying to assume what is happening with her. Assuming puts me in guessing mode which really doesn’t offer much help to her nor does it build trust.

Trust is built when we allow each other to be who we are, and feel what we feel. My assumptions do not foster openness. In these situations what I have to tell myself is something along the lines of:

Breathe. Let her feel what she feels, and don’t rush in to fix or remedy what’s happening.”

I remind myself to take note of what I’m aware of today, and not go digging around looking for the roots of other problems that might pop up tomorrow. Today has enough worries of it’s own. Let tomorrow be tomorrow.

Take a break.
Working in my garden every single day has a way of numbing me to the growth that’s happening. I don’t get to enjoy the corn growing an inch or two over the course of a week, because I can’t see the centimeters of growth.

Spending too much time with our partner can have the same effect on us. Taking a step back, and taking a break from the relationship on a regular basis will help to keep the relationship fresh and enjoyable.

Early in our dating and married life, I viewed Stephanie as my main friend. It was great at first, but after a while she began to feel trapped because there were weeks that would go by and I would not leave the house after coming home from work. She felt responsible for me in a way she couldn’t verbalize. My lack of guy-friends was putting a strain on our relationship. Which meant that I spent more time with her to try and repair the strain.

Take my advice, this is not a very helpful cycle to begin. Instead, develop social outlets that can include, but is separate from your spouse. Make sure that you have these outlets with same-sex relationships, and that your spouse knows and is supportive of your social outings.

Life is a process, not a finish line.
Even if my garden doesn’t produce edible fruit, it’s already been a raving success. The process of planning, building, and planting it has already accomplished growth in me. I’m seeing things about me that are making me smile, and causing me to pause and reflect. If I were to view this project as only a means to an end, you wouldn’t be hearing about it and I wouldn’t be growing from it.

Gardening is the story of marriage. It’s a process filled with seasons, beginnings and endings, and growth. It takes time, patience, and space to see and experience the growth. Hang on, because the process will be a wild ride.


Samuel Rainey is a professional counselor primarily working with couples, men, and women addressing issues of sexuality, emotional health, relationships, and spirituality. He is the co-Author of So You Want to be a Teenager with Thomas Nelson. He earned his Masters in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology in Seattle, Washington. When he is not roasting coffee, tending to his garden, or playing golf, he blogs about life process, parenting, and relationships at SamuelRainey.com. He can also be found on twitter @SamuelRainey. He and his wife reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee with their four children.

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