Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds is so often repeated that we run the risk of it becoming too familiar. As soon as we hear the words, “A sower went out to sow,” we might be tempted to tune out and assume that we know what’s coming.
Oh, sure, I know this one. Be good soil. Next!
That was certainly my frame of mind when I listened to my parish priest reflecting on the parable. But during the course of his discussion, he said something that broke through the comfortable familiarity of the tale—God prepares the soil.
God Leaves Nothing to Chance
Immediately, an image came to mind of a three-pronged hook used to turn soil. I’m not a gardener by any stretch of the imagination, but as a child I used to join my parents in our backyard come early springtime, glad to be outside after a long, cold Canadian winter. There, I would wield that tool with reckless abandon, eagerly breaking up the soil so that it would be better disposed to receive the seeds that would soon be planted.
Hmm… Is this how God deals with us?
For years, I had taken this parable as a reminder to be well-disposed to receive God’s graces—and indeed, it is. But there are two sides to every story, and this parable is no exception because—while God does expect us to respond to his grace, and in so doing, yield fruit in abundance—he doesn’t simply issue a command and then walk away. God is the Divine Gardener, and gardeners tend to their soil. Though God is generous, scattering the seeds of the gospel indiscriminately, he doesn’t stop there, simply hoping that it might chance upon some well-prepared soil.
No, he actively prepares us to receive his Word. Far from laying the responsibility squarely on our shoulders, far from leaving us the way he finds us, as hardened, shallow, or plagued with thorns, God himself prepares us to receive his seed, thus creating the good soil that he is hoping to find.
Preparing the Soil
This act of preparation has a few distinguishing characteristics. First, the process isn’t always easy. Being broken up and turned like soil must, by its very nature, be painful, but it is also necessary for us to be better able to receive God’s seeds and yield a rich harvest.
If we are hardened like the soil on the path, we might need to encounter trying situations to remind us that we alone are not enough and to underscore our need for him. If we are shallow soil with rocks lurking beneath a seemingly fertile plot, we might need to be challenged to break down our defenses and allow God in. If we are riddled with the thorns of anxiety or the desire for wealth, we might need to recognize them for what they are—idols set up in opposition to God—and allow him to tear them down so that he might assume his rightful place as king of our hearts.
In any case, the desired effect of such preparation is a movement away from dependence on ourselves, a shattering of that false sense of security that tells us we’re doing just fine on our own, and a progression toward complete and utter dependence on God.
An Ongoing Process
Another key feature of this preparation process is that it is never fully completed. Over time, we are all capable of regressing, falling back into old habits, and allowing our hearts to harden like ground beneath the winter snow. An attitude of conversion and of openness to God will not be accomplished overnight, but will more likely take the form of an ongoing cycle of preparation and blessing, until this attitude of trustful surrender becomes a way of life. Just as a garden requires constant care in order to yield a bountiful harvest, so too do our souls need constant tending if we are to yield fruit for the kingdom of God. Thankfully, the gardener of our souls is ever vigilant, tending to the garden of our hearts even when we are sound asleep.
Practically speaking, this means that we may need to revisit the preparation process multiple times in order to maintain our readiness to receive God’s blessings and yield to his holy inspirations. But if we respond to these periods with an attitude of trustful surrender and expectation, such encounters will slowly but surely strip away our desire for autonomy, gradually leading us to embrace that attitude of child-like dependence on our heavenly Father that is so necessary for entrance into his kingdom.
The more we rely on ourselves, after all, the less need we believe we have of God, and the less able we are to receive his holy inspirations and respond accordingly. We might even run the risk of becoming like those who, “seeing, they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). But in turning to God and casting ourselves upon him, we soften, we break, and we become ready and willing to receive and cooperate with God’s seeds of grace.
Blessings, Not Burdens
Finally, it is important to note that these periods of preparation are not inflicted on us as some sort of punishment, but rather, bestowed on us in love. When borne with humility, they produce in us endurance, character, and hope—and this hope does not disappoint! (Romans 5:4-5)
God, who is Love itself, is incapable of cruelty. Though he may allow trials to afflict us for a time, his intention is always to draw us deeper into a loving communion with him. With this end in mind, we can willingly yield to hardships, placing our trust in the one who cares for us and knowing that he is preparing to bless us soon in ways that we have yet to even imagine.
So the next time you find yourself in a time of preparation, hold fast to Christ and yield to his invitation, knowing that he wants to pour out graces upon you in abundance, and that, if you let them, those graces will yield growth—thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold!
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Isabella Bruno is a Catholic writer, blogger, and speaker who is head-over-heels in love with the Catholic Faith. You can find her online at isabellabruno.ca, where she shares inspirational love stories, highlights people pursuing their passions, and opens up about her own journey to love.
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