When I was in 3rd grade we did a science experiment. We took a big seed and we put it in a plastic bag with a little bit of water. We put our names on the bags and hung them in the windows. We wanted to see what would happen if a seed wasn’t put in the ground. Would it grow? If it did, how would it know to grow up if there wasn’t in the ground? These questions confounded us and we couldn’t wait to see the answer. But by the end of the day, the seed looked the exact same as it did in the morning. The next day, no change. A whole week went by and only the slightest change had occurred. We waited… and waited… and waited. At ten years old, we were impatient and wanted to give up.
At 26 years old, I now see that impatience is part of the human condition. We always want things to happen right now. The idea of waiting is just unbearable.
- Children and teenagers always want to be older than they actually are, wanting to grow up before they’re ready
- Young adults, after working so hard in college, are waiting for their lives to take off. “When am I going to be able to move out my parents house?”
- Parents… are wondering the same thing. “When are my children going to grow up to be the people we raised them to be: loving, successful, and faithful?”
- For all of us, we’re waiting for things to become clearer, for our path to be known, for our problems to go away so we can “go back to normal.”
Sometimes, it can feel like we’re 3rd graders watching a tiny seed grow: nothing seems to happen.
But that’s not the end of the story. In our 3rd grade class, our seeds eventually grew. Even without soil, even elevated six feet above the ground, its roots grew down and its stem grew up. And it continued to grow. Soon enough, it grew so large that the plastic bag could no longer contain it. And here’s the tough thing to accept in this story:
- It didn’t grow when we wanted it to grow
- It didn’t grow how we expected it to grow
- and it didn’t grow because of anything we did.
As hard-working Americans, people that believe we can accomplish anything we set our minds to, we don’t like to hear that we are not in control, that we can’t fix something if just work harder. We want to hear stories about how the smartest kid in the class was able to make her seed grow faster than expected, defeating all odds. But that’s not what happened. Everyone’s seed grew, and they all grew equally fast. From the smartest kid to the kid who picked his nose the whole time, they all grew equally. And really, how could we expect anything different? Can anyone here say that they know how a seed grows and that they are able to make it grow faster or slower? In fact, if anyone has ever planted a garden you know that the opposite is true: too much attention, believing that we can will the seed forward, can actually smother our dear plants and they won’t grow at all. Seeds need time to grow; they cannot be rushed. Like the man in the Gospel, all we can do is plant it in the ground, give it water, make sure the ground has enough nutrients, and wait for another day.
What it comes down to is accepting the fact that it is not us that makes a seed grow, it is God. I think that it is the same for us and all of our desires. We cannot force them any faster than God is willing to give them to us.
- There’s nothing we can do to make ourselves grow up faster
- Nothing we can do to guarantee our success
- Nothing we can do to make our children be someone they don’t want to be
- Nothing we can do to make our problems go away, to know exactly what is the best thing to do, or to make life easier
What we can do, sometimes all we can do, is to trust that God is in control, and have patience for the seeds to grow when they’re ready. It’s in times like these that I find the words of the great Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to be so helpful. His prayer goes like this:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
When I hear these words, I’m reminded that we are all seeds planted in the ground by God. One day, God hopes that we will all be tall trees, producing an abundance of fruit, and offering many dwelling places for the birds. He gives us all that we need, protects us from what is harmful; sometimes God needs to trim us of our dead branches, cutting back what is not good even if it hurts; sometimes he needs to rip us right out of the ground and plant us somewhere else where we will do better; and sometimes, he just needs to let us grow, patiently waiting for us to be who he has planted us to be: God’s creations.
And so, I think our message today is that we need to be patient, not just with others, but patient with ourselves. We all want to be big trees, fulfilling our great plans for ourselves. But trees don’t grow overnight, and it’s foolish to expect this of others, or ourselves. Why grow impatient with all the things in our lives that we don’t even have the power to change? Instead, trust in the process; trust that, even if you don’t see the seed growing, it is; trust that being incomplete, imperfect, and on the way still pleases God; and most of all, trust that God is going to lead us where God wants us to be.
Like my 3rd grade science project, we may not grow when we want or how we expect; we may not have the power to make all things right ourselves; but we will always grow. Sometimes it may feel like all we’re doing is waiting for God and God is never around; I tell you, it is quite the opposite: God has been there all along, planting, nurturing, and patiently waiting for us to turn to him and trust. Trust in the slow work of God.