What does the garden of the heart look like, especially as we near the other side of grief? In truth, the slow, steady drip of grief upon grief over the last fifteen years has taken its toll on the garden of my heart. Even though the roots of my faith grow deep, on the surface my heart’s garden looks more like a patch of abandoned dirt than well-tended beds of loveliness. The view’s a little bleak - I’ve neglected my heart. Grief is no gardener.
I’ve considered thoughtfully, indeed prayerfully what caused me to abandon the cultivation of the garden of my heart for a while. It wasn’t too difficult to connect the dots - my father’s decline into Alzheimer’s disease, my husband’s sudden illness and death, my father’s subsequent death, and finally my mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Illness, death, and grief too easily affect the God-given beauty of our soul.
It’s no mystery, then, why the garden of my heart seems sadly overgrown with weeds - the kind that add to the spiritual and emotional disarray of grief, the kind that resist a hoe or rotor, the most advanced chemicals, or miracle remedies. It helps to name the stubborn dandelions of our garden because we know then best how to remove them. My personal weeds aren’t found in any gardening book – there’s not one that describes the fear, anger, worry, sadness, and hurt of grief. Yet with the tenacity of faith, we can do something about our garden – we can pull out the weeds and hack away when despair and hopelessness sprout through the topsoil of our life to strangle the seedlings of our good growth.
God’s vision for mankind began in the most beautiful of all gardens, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15 NRSV). God intends for us to live in a peaceful place, a joyful place, a light-filled garden beyond our grief, “For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song” (Isaiah 51:3 NRSV).
In grief there are times when life seems paused, poised for whatever’s next. This is the season of grief when the fertile soil of our life lies fallow. At this dormant time we receive our spiritual sustenance from the comfort and care of the Holy Spirit. And when spring returns after the long cold winter of our grief, we see clearly the potential for new beauty. God provides the nurture, we do the labor as we cultivate the garden of our heart in celebration of new life. We plant peonies of pleasure, daffodils of delight, roses of love, lilies of joy. When the garden of our heart flourishes and grows again toward the light of hope beyond our grief we stand at last in the full splendor of life, the gift of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.
Isaiah 58:11 NLT
Keep me this day, O God, in the beauty of your love. Amen.