Today I’m thinking about the grass itself.
Our patch of grass has sprung up marvelously. The areas around the edges need some filling in, and some broad-leafed weeds are enjoying their short-term intrusion while the grass it too young to tolerate weed killer. But that will pass. Soon we’ll put down some fertilizer and over-seed another round of grass before we leave the yard to rest over the winter.
By mid-spring, I have no doubt that the back lawn will be lush and green. We’ll still need to fix the fence, prune the trees, and install new sprinklers. But at least the kids will have some comfortable turf to play on without getting muddy or having dried weeds stab them right through their shoes.
Jesus’ parable of the sower describes the kinds of conditions that seed might fall into. Like our own hearts, the ground might be thorny, stony, or overcrowded with crows. But it might also be fertile and ready to support life. It’s the decisions we make every day that determine the depth and health of our soil. Ultimately, we decide what will grow.
However, the last few weeks have reminded me of another lesson: even once the seeds start to grow, they can still die. They still need attention.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma shares another parable of planting seeds. In this parable, a seed is planted and springs forth a healthy tree. The vigor of the tree proves that the seed itself was good: “And now behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.”
But that’s not where the story ends. He asks, what if, having planted the seed, we now ignore it? Won’t it die? And, if so, what does that that prove about the seed? Was it bad all along?
While the answer seems obvious, the parable is a good reminder of our human nature to re-interpret our own past. The experiences of our past are not just fixed events like the slideshow of a vacation. Instead, we literally re-experience them when we remember them. We live them again and freely update and adjust them. That adjustment can be trivial, like changing the color of a dress or the time of day in a particular memory. Or it can be more profound. We can change the nature—good or bad—of the memory itself.
That’s why qualities like joy and misery aren’t bound by temporal law. Like Merlin the magician, these feelings travel backward through time without constraint. Thus empowered, they can completely rearrange the fluid mosaics of our ever-changing personal histories.
C.S. Lewis described this in the Great Divorce:
That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me but have this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin…And that is why, at the end of all things….The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.
And so it is with the seed of our faith. For, even once it is planted and grown into a promising young sapling, there is no guarantee that it will not die. And when it does, we are more likely to condemn the seed than to recognize our own negligence in its care. With shocking liberality, we revise our memory of the seed and recall that it never held promise. It was never any good after all.
From the wonderful words of Terryl Givens:
In our experience most believers, like doubters, are continually adjusting their paradigms to make better sense of the world as they experience it. Belief is fluid. So is doubt. Disillusion and readjustment work in both directions. Those who come late on the road to Damascus, and see the light at last, remember all those times they ignored quiet promptings, and their paradigms shift accordingly. The past begins to make new sense, as they reinterpret those annoying doubts and second guessings as the Lord’s gentle proddings. In contrast, those who find their faith unsustainable and so abandon their faith journey, move the other direction. Those quiet intimations they once took to be God’s spirit, those countless minor miracles they took to be answers to prayer, they now interpret as passing moments of self-delusion, wish-fulfillment, and the stuff of mere coincidence.
This is why our faith is so precious that it must be fed and watered daily. Not because it is false. It isn’t. Nor is it even fragile. But, like the true love of a great marriage, it can still wither from neglect and be remembered ill at the bitter moment of its eventual loss.
Thus, just as no marriage is so strong that anyone should think it smart to flirt “harmlessly” with an old flame on Facebook, it’s also evident that no faith is so strong that its seedling should be left to wilt in the sun.
The last few weeks have been challenging for many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In addition to the very public outcries of the offended, there have been many others who have kept their tears and prayers more private. These have sought solace and hope amid their own confusion.
I have been among this group. And it has been a painful ride!
I have been confused. I have had doubts. And those doubts, as they do, have moved backwards in time to cast a shadow over the joys and confidences of my past. They have threatened to eclipse even the earliest sparks of my original faith.
Last night, I mowed my new grass for the last time. I’d purposely let it grow long to help it retain moisture and to allow the newest of the sprouting seeds to gain some hold before I trampled over them with the mower. It was funny to hear a lawn mower in November and to smell freshly cut grass. It made me think of summer and how quickly the year has gone.
But it also reminded me of Alma. As I looked at my beautiful grass and thought of the lawn it was turning into, I thought of this parable. My grass is young enough that, despite its promising start, it could easily die next spring. I could give it over to weeds, fail to give it nutrient, or turn it over to the arid heat of Idaho’s high desert. It would be easy then to blame the ground (or the seeds or the house or the previous owners, etc.). But the truth is that if the seed is good and, if I care for it, the lawn will be too.
Today at church, we sang with the choir. We visited with people we did not know well. We actively listened and participated in our lessons. We invited a stranger to our house for Thanksgiving. We fulfilled our callings. We had family dinner. We took a nap. We read. We spent time with the kids.
It was a wonderful Sunday. It was the kind of Sunday that reminds me of where my faith comes from and all that it’s endured. It was the kind of Sunday that gives me hope that I’ll someday understand things better and be grateful that my faith was tested.
After church, and at my request, I met privately with my Bishop to discuss my testimony, my conduct, and my worthiness to participate in the ordinances of the church. He asked me several questions point blank. Do I have a testimony of the Atonement? Do I live an honest life? Am I true to my wife? Do I sustain the church leaders?
I listened to those questions more carefully than I ever have before. I took my time and thought them through. I asked for some to be repeated so that I could hear them again. I gave full license to my doubts, my conflicts, my questions, my intellect, and my emotions.
And, after each question, I answered “Yes.”