April 26, 2017

Sow Seeds of Encouragement Into Other Women

My brother-in-law Travis, a farmer, daily dips his hands in the fertile south Texas soil that is his family’s very provision. In the current season, the realized hope of summer harvest has past, the remnants of harvested crops have been destroyed, and now the soil he sifts in his hands has once again taken center stage. Alongside his farmer-father and his farmer-uncles, he has already turned, tilled, leveled, and molded the soil into neat rows and borders, preparing ready receptacles for seeds. These spring days are for fertilizing--acres and acres must be covered, and then acres and acres must be implanted with various species of seeds: sorghum, sugar cane, cotton, sesame, or cabbage.

Their work--the daily wrestling with the soil--is circadian and perennial yet has only ever just begun. After planting, they will scrupulously monitor the soil, coaxing it with aeration, searching it for even the smallest of weeds, scrutinizing it for signs of pests or worms. And then they will wait, giving time and space for the sun and the rain and the mysterious and miraculous work of seeds becoming sprouts becoming stalks.

This is hard work, and the hardest part is the waiting.
A farmer, perhaps more than most, knows something about faith. He knows he must work with the unseen end in mind. He knows he must value steady work more than fruitfulness. He knows how diligently he must watch over his growing crop, quick to rid the stalks of pests and weeds. But most of all, he knows of his need for others and their need for him, because the work is long and often uncertain.

As Travis speaks about farming, it strikes me how often he mentions his surrounding farming community. He speaks of relying on his dad and uncles, who have more experience; he speaks of relying on common farming knowledge that’s been passed down through generations; and he speaks of relying on the larger farming community: “When you don’t know what to do, if you ask around, someone is going to help you out.”

When he was first learning how to combat weeds, he says, he went row-by-row and hacked them off at the stem. His dad came behind him and pointed out his mistake: “That weed will be just as tall in a week if you don’t chop it out at the root.” A lesson regarding sin, certainly, but even more a lesson of how invaluable the help and exhortation is traded between those working by faith.  

As I consider the faithful life in comparison to the farming life, a little jolt of recognition goes through me: “Let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). The faith-filled life, like the farming life, is fueled by community. Paul tells us what specifically this fuel looks like: “Let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).

I imagine in his first planting season, Travis felt uncertain and inadequate. I imagine he felt this way because it’s so often how I feel as I sow the seeds of my own ministry to my children, to my husband, in my writing and teaching, and in the church we planted. No matter how much experience I have standing at the plow, I’m still prone to uncertainty, discouragement, and weariness. There is nothing that helps me more than a friend coming behind me and giving me eyes to see and remember the crops God has given in the past, or a friend pointing ahead with assurance of the crops to come.

Many times, however, my uncertainty and weariness gives way to self-pity. I look around for friends, and they are not always there. Some of that is because I avoid “asking around” at all costs. I might rather drown in self-sufficiency than admit I need help at the plow or that I don’t know what to do about the weeds choking me. It’s important, I’ve discovered, to go to others with my weariness and ask for them to pray for my drooping hands and weak knees.

But Paul doesn’t say, “Look around for who is encouraging you.” His is an imperative: Let us be the ones to act. His command is a purposeful pursuit of others, an intentional plotting: “Let us consider.” In other words, he is much more concerned with whom we are encouraging than with where our own encouragement is coming from.

One thing I know: we’re all prone to second-guessing ourselves and exhaustion and thoughts of giving up. We’re all wondering if the work we do in the name of the Lord is having an impact and bringing him glory. Everyone is thirsty for encouragement. Other women around us are among those wondering and waffling and even despairing. They are feeling unsure of their calling, their giftedness, and their work. They may be growing weary at the plow. Let us consider how we might come beside them with encouragement:
      If a seed has been sown in you by another woman, and if it’s grown up and borne something in you, tell her about it.
      If someone willingly entered your mess and helped you till hard ground, tell her what it meant to you.
      If you see the fruits of love or joy or peace or patience flourishing in another woman, point them out to her.
      If you see another woman standing at the plow, doing hard labor for the Lord, exhort her to continue on and tell her why it matters.
      If someone has taught you how to plant and to harvest the Word for yourself, express thankfulness to her.
Friendship is built upon encouragement and exhortation, because encouragement directed toward others is a fruit-bearing seed that, once sown, grows up and offers us delightful sustenance in return. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:25). Although encouraging other women is not a guarantee of friendship, it is an invitation for friendship and a certain assurance of joy. When we encourage others, we water and are watered in the process.