Last year in mid-October I went to Green Lake, Wisconsin to lead a workshop at a conference. I’d never been to Wisconsin and had absolutely no idea where I was going. So I googled and planned and made the necessary arrangements to get there, wherever “there” was. I arrived in Madison on a very rainy Sunday afternoon, picked up a rent car, and drove about 100 miles, almost due north.
When I exited the interstate highway, I drove “the road less traveled” through acres and acres of some of the most beautiful, expansive farmland I’ve ever seen. Despite the persistent downpour, I could see that these were big farms with well-kept houses, towering silos, and large, pristine barns. These self-sustaining dairy farms grow the crops and livestock that feed us – farming is big business.
The fields were bare, the harvest was in. I’ve done some farm management in my checkered career and know the momentary satisfaction of a good year. Yet there’s never a day of rest for those who depend on the earth and its cultivation for a living - the chores and cycle of farming never end. There’s always the next season and the next crop. Will there be enough rain? Are there sufficient nutrients in the soil to ensure the next harvest?
The work of grief is a little like farming – it’s a hard, daily encounter with uncertainty and the possible outcome of total loss. The death of our loved one uproots all that’s been carefully planted and tended. We don’t know what to do with the barren field of our life - we can’t envision our potential or the harvest of life beyond our momentary grief. What we learn from grief is that it’s impossible to make a crop without growth, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10 NRSV). If we don’t plant seeds, we can’t grow. God promises our crop will thrive if we'll but farm the acreage of our soul.
And so we dig – deep into the heart of our grief. We toss aside the stones of guilt and regret that threaten to damage the plowshare of our life. For some they’re more like boulders – it’s taken awhile to pry out and remove my rocks... The point is this: if we’re to survive our grief and grow forward, we cannot be defeated by the stubborn obstacles we find in the impoverished, nutrient-starved soil of our soul, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 NRSV).
When farmers furrow the land they plow parallel grooves, neatly ordered, side by side. Close rows need less irrigation and allow fewer weeds to grow – ultimately they yield a larger crop. And so in grief we furrow and plow, we seed and prepare for the rest of our life. If we plant rows of fear, anger, and resentment, our harvest will be mistrust, bitterness, and suspicion. If our seeds are forbearance, love, and patience, we reap the harvest of endurance, character, and hope, "we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5 NRSV).
When we cultivate our soul and spirit, the seeds of new life take root. Slowly we grow toward the light, beyond our grief. And in God’s perfect season we reap the increase of spiritual maturity, newfound wisdom, and greater human compassion. Grief is farming - expect a bountiful harvest, the gift of God’s unfailing goodness and steadfast love.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit.
John 15:8 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the bounty of your harvest. Amen.