God knows how to grow saplings into oaks. In this world, for plants and for people, that process involves some adversity. Yes, he knows our limits—and he knows what it will take to expand them. He knows what he is growing. He is carefully tending his seedlings towards an end result that we cannot even imagine. Who could imagine a mature oak, just by looking at a sapling?
There’s a small square of earth behind our house that belongs to us. Which is strange, because it was here a long time before we were and will be here a long time after we’re gone. But there’s a deed in an office somewhere that has our names on it, so the ground is ours. And with that ground comes the responsibility to care for it—a responsibility that didn’t come from an office, but from Heaven.
We do our best. And when I say “we”, I really mean my wife, Jessica. She’s the one who does most of the caring and tending and planting. I made the raised beds around the edges of the garden, but she’s the one that filled them with roses and blueberries, mint and strawberries, pineapple sage and climbing jasmine and passion flowers. This year, she brought home packets of seeds for dahlias, zinnias, and cornflowers as well, because she wants to have flowers to cut for our dinner table throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. She sowed the seeds in trays of compost and found the perfect spot inside our glass door where our seedlings could have ideal conditions: plenty of sun (by Irish standards), warmth inside the house, protection from cold and storms and slugs, and regular watering. We babied our little baby plants, and we were delighted to see them grow, and grow fast. In fact they grew so fast that their stems became long and thin and too weak to hold up their own new leaves. One by one me they began to fall over. What went wrong? How could our seedlings be so weak when we protected them from every difficulty and obstacle? What more could we do for them?
When we asked a gardener friend, he told us that the absence of difficulty was not the solution to their problem. It was the problem. The trouble for our seedlings—the trouble that made them weak—was that they had no trouble.