Now that the thermometer is dropping, I find that I’m avoiding my plants, especially my annuals — watering them less, averting my eyes from their browning leaves. It’s as if I’m having a hard time saying goodbye to the flowers I brought home so excitedly from the nursery just a few short months ago.
Or maybe I’m being a rather rude hostess to my (once) green guests: “Summer’s over; please make way for the decorative squash and corn stalks.”
But my gardening guilt really took root when I discovered, hidden behind a houseplant, a packet of sunflower seeds I’d never sown at all.
The bright yellow image of my favorite flower gave me a pang. The season had passed, and I’d wasted this little package of potential, which could have yielded both beauty and a new crop of seeds for a spring yet to come.
The simple regret prompted me to reflect on a summer I’d never really had.
My work schedule had been intense from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and I’d spent my vacation writing a difficult research paper so that I could finish my graduate degree a semester early. While the ice cream truck was circling the block every night, I labored to repaint two bedrooms in my house.
One friend lost her husband of seven decades; another friend committed suicide after years of battling alcohol and depression. And the world beyond my own front door seemed more lost and angry with each passing day.
As Psalm 126 reminds us, in this life we indeed “sow in tears” (Ps 126:5). Most of us no longer work the land, but we nonetheless plow through our days, raising children, supporting spouses and loved ones, holding down (or seeking) jobs, trying to make any number of frayed ends meet between dawn and dusk — and rising each morning to do the same.
Yet in Christ these labors, though watered with our own tears, are not in vain. We may never see the full fruit of our efforts on this side of heaven, but our harvest is assured. In a 2011 audience, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that Psalm 126 is actually “a joyful prayer of thanksgiving for God’s fidelity to his promises,” and that “a similar spirit … should mark our own prayer as we recall the care which God has shown us in the events of our lives, even those which seem dark and bitter.”
For me, the summer had been a difficult one, and in many ways I dreaded the cold, dreary months ahead. Still, I could see that the Lord of the harvest had walked the fields with me, even when they had been scorched by setbacks and loss.
He was there in the long, tense hours at my desk, and he steadied my fingers as they touched a paintbrush to aging plaster walls. He gave me words with which to comfort my widowed friend, and prayers for the soul of the one who had died by his own hand.
And even in the loss of a handful of sunflowers, the Lord consoled me once more: behind the forgotten seeds, I found a package of bulbs, ready for fall planting so that — after winter’s frosts — they could rise fresh in spring.
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