I see myself as a gardener, one whose core identity is tied to soil and seeds, and happiest when bare feet are touching earth and sod. I am a doer, a digger, someone with calloused hands, broken nails and dirty knees. I know what to do and what to say and how to interact within the framework of gardens.
But now I am increasingly unsure of myself as I am uprooted from what is familiar. The increased discomfort of an arthritic spine, the results of an auto accident decades ago, has forced me to leave the work I have always loved. I can no longer do the work needed to maintain gardens and landscapes, or operate a greenhouse. In my own yard the daily four to six hours of toiling, weeding and transplanting is now reduced. I can only work two or three twenty minute sessions a couple times a week, with nothing strenuous being done like digging holes or pruning overhead branches with loppers. I abandoned greenhousing a couple years ago.
I have found it particularly challenging this summer to accept my new limitations. My gardens are so neglected that it looks as if no one lives at my house. Tall and rampant Lambsquarters and Marestail weeds are choking out perennials and shrubs. I am embarrassed by the slovenly appearance of my once pristine yard, and am too proud to ask for help. Resignation is setting in and I contemplate calling friends to salvage my beloved plants, removing them to their gardens.
With a mind busy and wanting to do, and a body indicating otherwise, it is a challenge to find the balance between being productive while quieting my physical discomfort. Like the story of Simon from Luke’s Gospel, I keep going out into deep waters looking for a means of livelihood and pull in nothing but empty nets.
There is a certain amount of doubt, or hopelessness that creeps in when we repeatedly fail at trying to adapt what is familiar to an unknown situation. Just like Simon, we moved confidently out on to waters that had always provided for our needs only to find that there is nothing to be had.
It is within this self-doubt that Our Lord comes to us. Even though our failure to succeed was not due to lack of trying, He asks us to try again and leaves it up to us to choose to do as asked. Am I as willing as Simon, overworked and exhausted, to go once again into deep waters? Am I ready to ask those who have gone with me before to this place of empty nets, to come and help again? Am I open to saying “…we have worked hard…and caught nothing…but at your command I will lower the nets” and trust Jesus to provide?
And I wonder what will become of my “Yes, Lord” as I trudge back to that place of non-fulfillment, back to gardens and soils and sod. How will my life change if I too am filled to overflowing with multiple gifts from God? Whose hands will help bring an unexpected bounty to shore?
Maybe my greatest fear isn’t the empty net at all, but the full one of success; the full net that redefines who I am as a gardener and the purpose of His gifts. Maybe it isn’t my back that He needs at all.