Tending a garden means paying attention to the care that is needed in the garden. Tiny seedlings are fragile. If I want my seedlings to grow into strong, healthy, fruitful plants, I need to protect them and provide what they may need to flourish. Likewise, if I want to grow a mindset of hope, then I need to care for the hope I’ve planted in my mind. Tending to hope has very little to do with my circumstances, and almost everything to do with my own mental state. I want to be so filled with hope that nothing can shake me. That kind of hope doesn’t happen by accident.
Not everything that grows in a garden is useful. Take weeds: Though they are plants that can thrive in the carefully cultivated soil of our garden, they take up space and nutrients that our desired plants need. In the garden of hope, an example of a weed is negativity based on lies. (Not all negativity is bad. “You need to stop this bad habit,” is a negative statement, but it is based on a truth that says you are worth the work it takes to get better.) An example of negativity based on lies is “You will never meet that goal because you’re not good enough. You don’t have what it takes.” or “That bad thing happened to you because you deserve it.”
An important point to remember in “weeding” is that if you don’t get to the source of the lie, it’s a weed that’s going to grow back. Years ago, I went through a phase when I was just terrified that someone was going to break into my house and hurt me in some way. The lie I believed was, “I am not safe in my own home.” Where did it come from? I was able to trace it back to the crime dramas I would watch. They planted weeds of fear in my mind. Once I stopped watching those shows, I eventually felt safe in my home again. How simple is that? Sometimes the hardest work is defining the source of the lie. Once you do that, digging out its root feels simple.
The work of tending hope is more than just what we remove; it is also what we add to the soil. Nutrients we need in our garden are sources of truth. Examples are: God’s Word and songs with positive messages. Worship points us back to God and reminds us that God is bigger than our problems. Shows, books, and movies with positive messages are also sources of truth that will help our hope thrive. Try to follow hope givers on social media. These are the influencers with a positive message. Hang around positive people. These are just a few examples of nutrients to nurture our garden of hope.
Weeds aren’t the only danger in the garden of hope. There are also pests that seek to devour or destroy our hope. How can we protect the hope in our gardens from toxic people? One word: Boundaries! Oh but do good Christians have boundaries? After all, Matthew 5:38-42 instructs us to “turn the other cheek.” Though Jesus does ask us to suffer for His name, and to serve others (even our enemies) in love, those verses probably have more to do with lawsuits and court cases than with actual abusive behavior. Even Jesus had healthy boundaries. He had compassion on the masses and ministered to them, too, but the most intimate teachings and ministry was to only a few. He gave his best to only twelve people he handpicked for a very specific purpose. He often would go away by himself to pray. In Matthew 7:6, we’re told not to cast our pearls before swine or they will trample them under their feet and then turn on us. We’re told to hold our possessions with open hands and be willing to serve anyone. But there are limits. We need to love ourselves so that we can love others well. I think it’s about intentionality. We need to know our priorities and protect them with healthy boundaries.
Sometimes we can’t remove something or someone who is a hope killer. In the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-43), Jesus is relating this to people: God is not releasing his full punishment on those who deserve it now because it would also harm the people who are obedient to him. In a similar way, sometimes we can’t remove the hope killers from our lives because it would be more harmful to us in the long run. In these cases, I believe God will still use this for good. It may not be something I can control, but it certainly is something God can control.
The final step in tending our garden of hope is pruning. The point of pruning is to cut off something good so that the plant will be even more fruitful. I prune my rosebush every spring so that it will flourish to its fullest potential. Pruning is painful because it means cutting out something good to make room for something better. We don’t like to cut out the good. We probably really enjoy it. We must trust God that if He’s asked us to let something go, it’s because something better is coming.
Gardeners are active. Have you ever seen a gardener’s finger nails during the growing season? They are busy working and there’s evidence to show it. It’s the same with hope. Critics may say that hopeful people are naive. On the contrary, I believe they are some of the most mentally strong people I have ever met. It takes real strength to evaluate a tough situation and choose to be positive. The day I made the choice to stop making decisions based on fear is the day everything changed for me. We will always have hard circumstances. We don’t get to choose those. What we do get to choose is the way that we think about them, and then act on them.