I hate thinning out seedlings, choosing which ones to sacrifice so that the others will thrive; but that was how I spent the afternoon yesterday. I transplanted as many as I could, in the hope that some would survive, but still, a large number had to end up on the compost heap. Even these ones, however, are not going to waste – they will help to fertilise next year’s growth.
What surprised me (I was thinning out carrots and parsnips) was how much develops below ground before anything is even visible on the surface. Even some which had barely more than the tip of a green shoot showing through the soil had roots of more than an inch long; ones which were sporting two or three leaves had roots of two to three inches in length. I tried to select not the leafiest ones, but the ones with the most intact roots to transplant elsewhere in the vegetable plot, as I thought they would have the most chance of successfully establishing themselves.
It got me thinking. How often we look at the bits we can see in the soil of a life – our own or someone else’s – and draw conclusions and judgements from that. I hear someone (myself or somebody else) say something unkind; I see them act in a way that is unwise; and I draw a conclusion about their spiritual state – they must be in a bad place spiritually or they would not appear so unChristlike.
Yet all I can see is some immature shoots poking through the soil, looking as though there is plenty of room for improvement. What I can’t see is that in a secret place, away from view below the soil, an ever-deepening root is pushing down into the life source; and no matter how feeble the appearance above ground, maturity and fruitfulness are guaranteed, however long it takes, because something deep and strong is forming and becoming established.
That’s why it’s unwise to pass judgement on myself or anyone else; I can’t see what God can see, I don’t know what He knows. And it’s also why God reminded Samuel that people look at the outward appearance but God sees the heart.
I’m not going to chide or nag my plants for not looking big enough or strong enough. I’m going to water them regularly, weed around them, and generally tend and nurture them. I guess that’s what we should do when we see a fellow-Christian whose behaviour falls short of a standard we think they should attain. Not judge; not jump to conclusions about the parts of their spiritual and emotional development that we can’t possibly know about; but encourage, nurture, remove the obstacles that might hinder their growth, and water with the encouragement of God’s word – and then sit back and enjoy the beauty and nourishment that God brings from their life.