If our efforts to raise houseplants have been hit and miss, imagine some of the misadventures of raising a son with autism. Caregiving provides instant and constant experiences of inadequacy. Just as we’ve tried various strategies to keep the plants growing, we’ve sought out an array of therapies, settings, medications, specialists, diets and more to bring out the best in Joey’s life. And even with all that help, there are plenty of withered efforts to report.
Some approaches failed and were abandoned. Others worked with a bit of adjustment, like moving a glum-looking potted plant into better sunlight to perk it up.
So, where does this Jesus, the great gardener, come into failures and do-overs? Many people think that Jesus’ followers stand apart from life’s struggles, judging those who do not rise to some religious idea of perfection. But the truth is that we have a profound sense of our own imperfection.
“Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5 NIV).
Trying to bring beauty out of clay pots or bare earth is not something for which Melissa and I were naturally “competent.” Other translations of that Bible verse use the words “adequate” or “sufficient.” We had to confront our own inadequacy over and over as stuff failed to grow.
But beauty did grow when we resisted despair and accepted second, third, fourth, and more chances to try again. Had we allowed our own failures to shame us into giving up on gardening, we’d have been surrounded by dirt, rocks, and weeds. We had to accept the freedom to experience failures and take new chances, often with considerable help from others.
As caregivers, the stakes were even higher. Joey’s health and happiness were more than wilted flowers to throw away. The sense of shame when some effort didn’t benefit him was overwhelming. We were inadequate to his needs.
Which is exactly where the good gardener walked in. Our sufficiency was not in any preexisting set of skills and talents. Rather, it was that a good and loving God placed us in Joey’s life. It didn’t always feel like that because our emotions would grab onto our inadequacy. But we were sufficient because God gave us freedom to fail and try again. God led us into the freedom to set aside pride and ask others for help. We were sufficient because God loved Joey and assigned us as his caregivers.
Jesus, the good gardener, teaches us that, as insufficient as we might feel, his care for our lives and the lives placed in our care is sufficient. He tends fruitless trees and gives them new seasons in which to flourish.
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What trial has God called you to endure?
By Timothy Fountain
Timothy Fountain grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Southern California despite having no football skills. After a stint running a jackhammer and then three years in the Army, he abandoned thoughts of a legal career, attended a seminary in New York City, and devoted almost thirty years to Christian preaching. He and his wife, Melissa, and their two sons, one a lad with autism, moved to South Dakota in 2004. Tim continues a life of trial and error as a husband, dad, family care giver, preacher and writer.