Our Tender, Tending God

“Are you enjoying your break from writing?”

That’s the question someone asked me recently that made me pause. Made me wonder.

Am I? Was this a break I needed?

The next morning, opening up my journal, I flipped to the next blank page. I’m nearly halfway through that journal, and it’s my second one of 2020. I don’t know the last time I filled so many pages with my own handwriting. I don’t know the last time I wrote so many words that only Jesus has read.

Am I enjoying my break from writing?

No—because I haven’t actually taken a break from it.

I’ve only taken a break from the production of writing, from drafting and editing and finally stringing together a sentence so that you might actually read what I intended to say when I wrote it.

And, yes, I’ve enjoyed the break from that.

But it’s also been strange, and I miss it, too. Space and time that used to be filled is empty for now. And that feels strange. I’m tempted to believe I’ve wasted it.

I’m tempted to feel fruitless—with nothing to show for hours of days that used to yield filled pages.

Before school on Monday our chaplain read Psalm 1:

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3, ESV)

It caught my ear in a way that it hasn’t before.

“It yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”

I’ve taken up gardening in the past few months. Now, I’m no expert, but let me tell you something that I’ve learned: you’re in trouble if the leaves wither. No matter the season, withered leaves reveal a serious problem.

Fruitlessness, on the other hand, is not always a sign of death or disease. Sometimes, there’s not fruit because it’s not the right season. Sometimes plants aren’t big enough yet. Sometimes it’s too hot or too cold. Sometimes the soil is missing certain nutrients or there’s not enough water or there’s not enough sun. In those cases, the plant will stop producing fruit in order to sustain life. That same plant will often survive to produce fruit later on, in its season, when the conditions are right, and the plant is stronger.

But we cringe because we know what the Bible says: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). We wear the words like a weight. We panic when production stops. We search for ornaments to hang on what appear to us as barren branches.

We forget what the Lord has actually asked of us just a few sentences before. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Our role in fruit-bearing isn’t producing. It’s abiding.

If production is our only measure, we’ll believe we have nothing to show for a season of stillness. But if we’ll let the Lord have His way in these moments, perhaps we’ll know another side of Him. We thought He only came to harvest the fruit. But here He is—He has come to us when all we have to show is a few miraculously green, unwithering leaves.

“Let Him tend to you.” Someone said it to me recently, and something in my heart softened, relaxed, leaned back against the faithful and skilled hand of God.

We are grateful to find that this tender, tending God comes to tend us too.

To remember that the invitation is to abide—to live right here in the hand of the One who knows the season, who knows our season.

He knows the ache of the cold and still, and He knows what it can grow in us. He sees the loss or the lack or the longing as we dig hungry roots deeper through the dirt of this world to find the nourishment only He can give. He holds us through the windstorms that would strip our branches bare.

And sometimes, as the skilled Gardener knows, the fruit may not flourish but life will still hum steady in the stem. And leaves may well be the only evidence of that.

 And then, just when we least expect it, God will surprise us.

I picked spinach from my garden yesterday—filled a bag up with veggies for my smoothies and my eggs. Don’t miss this: I filled up a bag with leaves. Lettuces grow in winter (at least in Houston’s mild winter). Green leaves flourish on tender shoots in months when tomatoes and squash and other flashy fruits can’t grow.

That bag of spinach is a morsel of hope. Perhaps these seasons when production ceases aren’t so fruitless after all. Perhaps these remaining leaves are nourishment to us—the quiet fruit of seasons spent silent in the presence of the One who sees it all.

He’ll harvest the fruit, yes, in its time, but in the meantime, He’ll tend to us, too. And that, we’ll find, is our greatest need in every season.

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