This Unplowed Ground
Recently, my friend Lindsee has been consistently reminding me to “keep my hands to the plow” — to keep my hands on the work in front of me, to keep my eyes on the Lord beside me rather than be distracted by the works going on around me.
And I’ve been failing. But I realized something.
I told her earlier this week that I’ve been hearing her all wrong. Every time she’s said “plow,” I’ve pictured a lawn mower. I’ve pictured my hands on a gas-powered machine, leveling the ground in front of me. And it’s felt overwhelming and exhausting and quite frankly, impossible, because every other yard looks much more manicured than the unmanageable grass beneath my imagined mower.
And I’ve been distracted and discouraged. It’s really hard to stop comparing manicured lawns. There are literally committees created to do that—to decide whose lawn is the prettiest. We’ve been trained to desire greener grass, better-tended beds, bigger shrubs and more fruit in the orchards.
But last night, I realized I needed to adjust (or actually completely toss out) my picture of the plow because it wasn’t a plow at all. A plow pulls up the soil. A plow reaches deep into both manicured and maniacal grass and pulls it out at the root.
Plowing, unless you know its purpose, looks a lot like destroying whatever growth was already there.
Unplowed ground, to the untrained eye, always looks more pleasant.
Mowing feels productive. Yards look better after they’ve been mowed. After the plowing? Well, after the plowing, yards just look like fields—and not pretty fields, fields of dirt. And the act of plowing? It’s much harder than mowing. Plowing requires digging down deep in the soil, pulling up roots and setting aside rocks. Dirt gets under your fingernails and creeps into your socks. Sweat sticks your shirt to your back. Frustration may dampen your cheeks with tears.
Plowing doesn’t settle for surface beauty. It looks beneath what’s been and begins to till the hope of what could be. No guarantees though. It’s mostly simple, quiet, daily work in the only direction there is to go.
And this plowing, it’s not just in the work of our hands, not only in the classrooms or the boardrooms or the bedrooms of the tiny ones we’re raising. It’s in the depths of our hearts, in those places that have grown hard or cold, those places that we let die of exhaustion instead of seeking rest in our God.
Perhaps there are things we’ve been doing and ways we’ve been being that God wants to uproot—not because they’re inherently wrong but because they’ve run their course. The season is over and the soil must be made ready for what’s next.
I wish it were prettier.
A lot of the time, this whole plowing thing feels more like moving dirt. It looks and feels a bit ridiculous.
No one is going to be impressed with our plowed fields. People prefer plants. Fruit. Flowers. Grass. Beauty. Rows of dirt don’t feature prominently on Instagram.
Just yesterday, I looked over at the field beside me and I wanted to pick back up a lawn mower or plant some mature-looking plants or trees or something—anything to make it look a little better. Or maybe I could build a wall to hide the barrenness of this land.
Plowing is great in theory but it’s harder to live in the day-to-day.
“I don’t know if THIS is worth it, Lord,” I whispered because plowing makes honesty seem like the only option.
“But I trust that YOU are,” I finished because I needed a shred of hope to hold to.
And as I stood there staring at a shed of tools (and honestly tempted toward the machete), I realized you can’t very well mow a field of dirt, so I picked the plow through tears again, let Him deal with what was going on within me instead of what was around me.
I suspect I’m not the only one who needs to trade this manicured lawn for a field of dirt.
So let’s do this thing. Let’s take a plow to what looks pleasant but has long ceased to nourish life. Let’s turn the soil over in our hands until all we have to show for it is a big huge field of readied rows. Let’s lay down a life of glamour for the fields that we were meant to tend.
Years ago, I was mildly obsessed with Ross King’s song “Unplowed Ground.” These lines in particular still strike a cord in me:
“Habits turn to cycles turn to seasons, and seasons turn to years before we know
We lay still alive but barely breathing, and we whisper, ‘That’s just the way it goes,’
But the Lord says, ‘No,’
‘Break up your unplowed ground, and you will find a treasure
Sell everything you own to buy what can’t be measured
I long to lay you down in richer fields than you have known
So break up your unplowed ground and make this land your home.’”
Lyrics from Unplowed Ground by Ross King, from the CD entitled "And All The Decorations Too" (www.rosskingmusic.com)