To-may-to, To-mah-to: What Does It Matter?

To-may-to, To-mah-to: What Does It Matter?

A three-part series on faith, discipleship and witness from my northern Alberta garden.

It’s that time of year again already. It corresponds nicely with the new beginnings promised by the Easter season. Seeds are being planted indoors for an early start; plants and hard to find seeds have been ordered; and garden plans are being made, and remade, including the addition of strange new fruits and vegetables. My husband looks at the snow on the ground and shakes his head at me.

My first Cherokee Purple of the 2016 growing season.

I love to grow tomatoes. Small, Chocolate Sprinkles cherry tomatoes; big, monster Mortgage Lifter tomatoes; and all shapes and sizes and colors in between. My yard becomes a veritable jungle of tomato plants throughout the summer, usually containing a minimum of 15 different varieties and anywhere between 25-30 plants. Some of these plants have the potential to grow 8-10 feet tall in optimal growing conditions (though the growing conditions in northern Alberta doesn’t quite fit the definition “optimal”), while others remain a compact 2 feet tall. Still others hover around the 3-4 foot range, while some become a maze; a mass of vines in a rather puzzle-like configuration.

Each plant has its own peculiarities and demands. They are kind of like people. Even two plants of the same variety, from the same source are unique in their individual needs, progress and proclivities.

Most times, it’s rather smooth sailing: prepping, planting, watering, feeding, pruning, a little bit of fussing over, and the best part, harvesting. Sometimes however, it’s a little rockier: tangled or shallow roots, poor weather, pests, disease, children (!), minimal production. It seems no amount of intervention helps.  Eventually, the plant succumbs to latent forces beyond my control (and sometimes within my control, READ: my children). Thankfully, disease has not been a major problem; the weather tends to cooperate with a little bit of forecast watching and preparation. Tangled or shallow roots on the other hand remains one of my greatest challenges, stunting plants and beginning the death process before growth has really begun. However, every once in a while  appears a plant that has noticeably begun the death process, and yet, survives and thrives. With some perseverance, faithful attention and radical “root” intervention, which includes a rather violent cutting and pruning, the growth process is re-started with a change in conditions. These plants are by far my favorite; they are often my greatest producers.  Read more

In many ways, tomato growing has much in common with faith, discipleship and witness. Extraordinary lessons can be gleaned from creating; working the earth and watching a plant grow, blossom and produce sweet, sun kissed fruit that can be shared with friends and neighbours alike.

Let’s begin with faith.

Roots are essential for the proper growth, development and production of a tomato plant. Roots search for a source of nutrients as they grow deeper into the soil; they take up water and food, delivering it to the developing plant. They sustain proper growth, providing health and stability.  They are the conduit for fruit production. When roots are tangled or shallow, they are unable to support the growing plant above the soil, often strangling the very thing they are meant to sustain. They are the anchor for the plant, and when shallow, cannot provide the necessary foundation for strength and stability. Stability is important when a plant has the potential to grow 8-10 feet tall!  What is happening below the surface must be healthy. If unhealthy, radical intervention becomes critical for the survival of the plant.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7) 

Our faith is much the same as the tomato plant. What is happening on the inside (or below the surface) must be healthy. Our roots are healthy only when they find their grounding and sustenance in Jesus Christ.  If unhealthy or tangled or shallow, radical intervention is necessary for strength and survival. Paul tells us that it is not a matter of simply planting and walking away, or simply coming to know and accept Jesus as Lord and that being enough. No, instead, we must continue to follow him; to faithfully nurture our roots, actively aiding them as they grow down into Jesus, who is the source of life. Just as a plant can only grow strong and tall (as tall as the less than optimal northern Alberta climate allows!) if it has deep and healthy roots, so too can our faith only grow stronger if we are deeply rooted in Jesus.

Of course, it is important to remember that roots don’t grow overnight (as my 2 1/2 year old can attest to; recently planted flowers can be uprooted extremely easily!), nor is it dependent solely on our actions and activities. Growth takes time. Often, roots grow deeper and stronger before there is noticeable growth above the soil. Patience is important. I can count the number of times my impatience got the best of me and I uprooted a perfectly healthy, solidly rooted plant because the “top-growth” didn’t meet my immediate expectations. I have also watched plants grow quickly, only to produce small, bitter and mealy fruit. The visible growth of the plant was majestic; the fruit it produced was pathetic. I learned my lesson very quickly. It is a lesson that I must continually refer to in my own journey: the reward is usually not visible at once. There is a process involved. God is at work – in tomatoes and people – growing, pruning, sustaining. Although it may not be immediately apparent, continuing to sink our roots deep into Jesus as the source of life will produce a rich and abundant faith that is both sustainable and can withstand whatever may come.

Though it is far too early in the season to plant out my tomatoes, it is never too early to begin the journey of actively nurturing our roots to grow down into Jesus. Perhaps it is as simple as faithfully spending 15 minutes with the written and incarnate Word of God each day. Or maybe it entails 10 minutes of intentional silence in His presence. It might be a period of intense and devoted study. Or it may be a season of sacrificial service to another. Roots can be nurtured and developed in many ways. What is important here, is that our roots continue to grow down into Jesus and our lives are built on him.

Shallow roots produce an unsustainable and unstable faith.

Shallow roots in a tomato plant produce a plant that can not withstand even the mildest of winds or rain. My yard has seen plenty of broken branches, damaged fruit and the odd uprooted plant, that wasn’t the result of the activities of a 2 1/2 year old. It has also seen numerous bent, contorted and twisted branches that remain attached to a healthy plant that is firmly rooted. When the storms of life rage and factors beyond our control batter us every which way, having shallow roots is a recipe for disaster. Shallow roots produce an unsustainable and unstable faith. We are easily uprooted, our growth is unsustainable, and often times we are damaged. When our roots are deep and healthy, finding their source of life in Jesus, we are better able to withstand the storm. We remain (somewhat) stable. We sustain in the midst of the storm. While we may come out the other side battered – bent but not broken; contorted and twisted but firmly rooted, we can heal and grow even stronger because of our deep rootedness in Jesus, who is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

If roots are tangled – rooted in themselves and not the soil – they cannot take up water and nutrients. The plant wilts and eventually dies. If our lives are rooted in something other than Jesus, we wilt and spiritually decompose; often times insidiously. We desperately search for sustenance, but find the “soil” in which we are rooted is insufficient. We wither.

Deep and healthy roots grow stronger with the storms; those rooted in Jesus can both withstand and paradoxically counteract the storm. Much like my favorite tomato plants; what at first appeared to be a disaster, is in fact a lesson in perseverance, faithfulness and a radical “root” intervention.

Where do your roots find their source of life? How deep do they go? 


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