Tending Your Life Crops
Career, Friends, Family, Self, God.
If you’re like me, you get up every day and decide which one of these relationships to neglect. There are never enough hours in the day, and something has to give. I must choose between spending time with my family or getting some exercise, or I must choose between spending time in Bible study or getting enough sleep. But the one crop that never seems to get neglected – for me at least – is career. I’ve spent the last few weeks reflecting on why, and I think I have the answer: because it loves me the least, and is therefore the least forgiving.
These five types of relationships are unique, yet all have one thing in common: they need “tending” to maintain. How you tend these “crops” says a lot about you, and your priorities.
The “Life Crops”
Career, your cash crop. Forgiveness factor = Low. The success of the early American colonies was due in large part to the proliferation of tobacco as a cash crop. The soil and climate of Virginia and North Carolina provide the right mix of drainage, sunlight, and temperature for the crop to flourish. Tobacco requires a lot of care and nurturing, especially early in the crop cycle. The seeds are grown indoors for the first six weeks, and must receive multiple rounds of pesticides. Once transplanted to the field, soil moisture must be monitored closely. Tobacco also drains the soil of key nutrients faster than any other major crop. Harvesting tobacco plants is difficult and dangerous manual labor. And after harvest, the leaves must be cured for months to prepare them for consumption. But all this pain can yield plenty of short-term gain, as this crop is quite lucrative. Just like tobacco, your career crop withers fast, so it requires a lot of attention. A few days of neglect could leave you jobless, as careers are seldom forgiving or tolerant to adverse conditions.
Friends, your companion crop. Forgiveness factor = Moderate. Relationships with friends are your cotton crop. Not as difficult to grow as tobacco, but can certainly be temperamental. Successful cultivation of cotton requires a long frost-free period, plenty of sunshine, and moderate rainfall. Like cotton, a harvest of close friendships can clothe you with warmth, comfort, companionship, and accountability.
Family, your staple crop. Forgiveness factor = High. Wheat is grown on more land area than any other food. It is grown on every continent except Antarctica, and grows well in a wide range of temperatures and soils. Although yields vary greatly based on circumstances, generally it takes a fair amount of neglect to ruin a wheat crop completely. Like wheat, your relationship with your family is forgiving and hardy, willing to weather bitter storms and cold shoulders without breaking bonds. However, its love is not unconditional. If this ground does become fallow it will take significant time and effort to restore these relationships.
Self, your timber crop. Forgiveness factor = High. Pine trees are pervasive throughout the northern hemisphere, with different species thriving in the sub-zero arctic taiga, steamy sub-tropical climates, and hot, dry semi-desert climates. They grow in a variety of soils, and adapt to a wide range of growing conditions. It takes a lot of neglect or extremely adverse conditions to kill a mature pine tree. Like these conifers, we humans have a strong will to live. It takes quite a bit of neglect or abuse to damage us beyond repair, either mentally, emotionally, or physically. But if we do give up on ourselves, often we’re unlikely to recover.
So where does God fall in all of these “life crops”? I see God as the soil itself, providing nutrients and shelter. It never stops nourishing, but the more you cultivate it and spend time with it, the greater all your crops will be. God loves you more than any earthly relationship. His love is unconditional, but the relationship must be bilateral. He gave of himself so that you might live, and He continues to give and give and give, unconditionally – but only if your roots are planted in Him.
I know what you’re thinking. This agricultural metaphor is nice, but how can I use any of this? If something has to give, then what gives?
In agriculture, multiple cropping (also known as polyculture) is the practice of growing two or more crops in the same space during a single growing season. This interspersal reduces incidence of crop failure as one crop shields the other from adverse biological agents. For example, canola is intercropped with wheat to shift aphids from wheat to canola, and okra intercropped with cotton diverts insects toward the cotton. Marigolds are often planted with tomatoes for the same reason. One of the biggest benefits of multiple cropping is that nutrients from the soil are more efficiently utilized since the different crops growing together have different nutritional requirements and often supply waste products that are useful to their partner crops. Multiple cropping also hampers weed growth as it narrows the space available between crops. Since the different crops require varying degrees of care and attention, multiple cropping also increases the likelihood of detecting problems in all of the crops, because the entire growing plot must be examined on a regular weekly schedule.
For me, the solution to the conundrum of continuous partial neglect lies in applying this concept of polyculture to my life crops. I don’t have to tend each one every day, but I can make sure each gets the needed amount of care and attention each week. Whether the week of creation described in Genesis 1 is literal or metaphorical, it’s clear that God views the week as an important measure of time – a cycle of accomplishment, renewal, and reflection. Science agrees, as multiple studies show that the week is the optimal short-term planning cycle for the human brain. Long enough to allow us to plan in component parts but not so long as to make those plans seem unattainable.
What does this mean for our real lives? On Saturday I get an hour of intense exercise; while on Friday I was content to just take the stairs. Monday I stay late at work; Tuesday I leave early to meet the family for dinner. Wednesday I get up early and spend a solid hour in the Word and prayer; Thursday all I can manage is to read a devotion and thank God for another sunrise. On balance, the week is in balance in terms of these relationships.
Relationships tended weekly grow. Relationships neglected weekly wither and die. It’s that simple.
From time to time it’s healthy to reflect on the endgame. Each of these relationships has a different harvest. Some of the gains are short-term, some are long-term, and one is eternal. It’s true that we reap what we sow, but we sow a lot of things. How much we reap from each crop is in direct proportion to how well we tend. Take some time this week to reflect on the tending of your “life crops”. What does “growth” look like in these relationships? What does “wither” look like? What harvests are you working toward?