This time of year I’m always itchy to get my hands in the dirt. As the temperature begins to warm and the ground thaws, I am filled with a restless energy, eager to slip my feet into my plastic gardening clogs, grab a spade from the garage, and dig in.
I love the feeling of satisfaction that comes from clearing a bed of decayed oak leaves, shelled acorns and desiccated weeds, carefully pulling away the detritus of winter to reveal tender green perennials peeking up through the soil.
I love mixing in the dark, loamy compost, turning over the dirt with my shovel and then smoothing it flat with the hoe.
I love carving a shallow trench with my trowel, tearing open a packet of Romaine lettuce seeds, dropping them one by one into the earth and then pushing the soil gently over them with my gloved hand.
The trouble is, I don’t always follow the directions on the back of the seed packet. Rather than spacing my lettuce seeds the recommended six to eight inches apart, I cram them into the soil, sometimes barely allowing an inch or two between seeds. Inevitably, after the seedlings have sprouted a few weeks later, I’m forced to thin my rows, pulling perfectly healthy plants and tossing them into the compost pile in order to make room for the others to flourish.
Maybe you recognize the metaphor here. Perhaps you, too, have the tendency to overplant not just in the garden, but in your life as well.
I often fill my days, weeks and months to overflowing, cramming every bit of space with more – more busyness, more commitments, more projects, more socializing, more stuff. I buy more, I plan more, I do more, I produce more. I sow so many seeds, my “plants” end up jammed together with no space in between.
I believe this urge to sow our days with an overabundance of seeds and to crowd every space to overcapacity comes from an unnamed desire within us, a deep longing for contentment, fulfillment and peace and, beneath that, a longing to be known, valued and loved.
Some of us attempt to quench this longing with a full calendar and a demanding schedule. Others turn to food, alcohol, drugs, another name brand purse or a larger, fancier house to fill the void.
We strive to fill this deep yearning we sense in ourselves, not realizing, or perhaps not admitting, that the best thing we can do is to be “receptive to the unfulfilled,” as author Sara Miles says, neither filling it nor denying it, but simply sitting with the emptiness and acknowledging the presence of longing.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord,” St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Herein lies the essence of our longing. God made us for him – to be with him and in him, to be known by him and loved by him.
He made us in his image as his most precious beloveds, and yet, we cannot rest in intimate communion with him until we make space in our crowded lives for him to enter in.
We must first allow ourselves to be empty, to sit like tiny seeds, vulnerable in the dark spaciousness. We must acknowledge and listen to the longing deep within us without scrambling to fill it, trusting that in time, God will meet us there and fill us with himself.
This post first ran in the Lincoln Journal Star on April 7.