Don’t Give Up On Yourself Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Lent 3, 2016) How many times have we found a tree not bearing fruit and then just given up on it entirely? Of course, we urban dwellers probably don’t depend on gardens and orchards for our food, but the under-producing tree can serve as a metaphor. […]
Don’t Give Up On Yourself
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Lent 3, 2016)
How many times have we found a tree not bearing fruit and then just given up on it entirely? Of course, we urban dwellers probably don’t depend on gardens and orchards for our food, but the under-producing tree can serve as a metaphor. The diet didn’t produce magical, overnight results. The class we took wasn’t an easy “A” (or worse, we worked really hard and still made a disappointing grade). The creative project fell flat. We didn’t get the part in the local production, or we didn’t get the solo in the holiday pageant, or we didn’t get the bonus or the promotion at work, or the friend didn’t thank us for the favor we did them…We’ve all waited for the tree to bear tasty fruit and found it lacking. We’ve all been disappointed. How can we hope when hope hasn’t changed much so far? And how can we share hope if don’t have any for ourselves?
The gardener is the gospel lesson is a peddler of hope! The owner is ready to give up on the tree, the idea, the effort, the relationship, the class, the job, the dream that hasn’t really gone anywhere so far; but the gardener says, “let’s give it one more chance.”
I had a parishioner years ago who was very ill. Over the years, she took more and more medications. She had a couple of major surgeries. No one thought she could live much longer. But somehow, she didn’t give up. She didn’t get bitter, and she didn’t seem to feel cheated that she had to work so hard for her health. She loved food and television and visiting with friends. She loved worshiping and she loved volunteering at the church. She couldn’t really do much, but she could answer the phone and check the mail and send notes to people. And so she did what she could, and she enjoyed it. Doctor visits and trips to the pharmacy were just part of her life, like going to church and volunteering in the office, and watching television and eating good food. She did what she could, she appreciated the things that brought her joy, and she just kept trying. The woman no one thought would live past 70 lived to be 90, and she was surrounded with good friends at the end. She could have given up sooner and missed out on a lot. She could have let self-pity or anger or disappointment rob her of the joys that were available to her, but she didn’t. She kept giving life another chance to produce for her, and life, though sometimes with apparent hesitation, kept giving her things to be happy about. She didn’t give up too soon, and her patience was rewarded.
Sometimes it’s as simple as that, isn’t it? People can be cruel, but not everyone is cruel. Life can be difficult, but it can also be joyful. Money may sometimes be tight, but then sometimes a great windfall might come our way. If a medical procedure doesn’t work, another one might, or if recovery from a procedure or an illness takes longer than we expected, that doesn’t mean that things won’t improve eventually. There are hardships, and there are breakthroughs. There are disappointments, and there are happy surprises. There are setbacks, and there are times when we bounce back. If we are facing a rough patch, or a dry season, it may be something as simple as hope that will get us through, and on the other side, there may be wonderful gifts that we would have missed if we had given up.
Years in the wilderness can still lead to a land of promise. Three days in a tomb can still be followed by a new experience of life. Times of drought are eventually relieved by long awaited rains. Jacob had to work for 7 years to be with the person he loved, and then was cheated and had to work and wait for 7 more years, but at long last, his heart’s desire was fulfilled. These stories are allegories for the power of hope, for clinging to hope even when nothing seems to be working right.
There may come a time when the wisest, healthiest course of action is to walk away, or change directions, or rethink a plan, or make a course correction. But even those actions suggest a hope that things can get better. If I abandon, tweak, delay, or completely change a plan, it may be so that I can get to my goal in a different way than I thought I would, but that isn’t giving up on the goal, it’s just being flexible enough to allow various paths to the goal to present themselves.
There is a theologian that I admire who began ministry as a Congregationalist minister. He later became a Unitarian Universalist minister, and finally a Unity minister. His plans changed along the way, but his goal of serving people in ministry remained constant. He didn’t give up on the goal, but he was open to new ways of achieving the goal. I’ve known pastors who became chaplains, high school teachers who became college professors, clergy who became therapists, Christians who became Jews, actors who became directors, military pilots who became commercial pilots…in order to achieve their goals, they were willing to change their plans, but that was actually how they were able to not give up on the ultimate goal.
The gardener in the gospel story is telling us, “don’t give up. You want fruit, you deserve fruit, so let’s work with this tree a while longer. If it doesn’t work out later, we can still cut it down and get a new one, but we’ve already invested time in this one, let’s nurture it a while longer and see what happens.” Keep working with the doctor, keep taking classes, keep exercising, keep praying, keep trying, keep nurturing that tree, you may be closer than you think to a breakthrough.
The Isaiah reading also encourages optimism. It uses the imagery of seasons. Seasons take time, and are followed by other seasons. It may take a while to achieve what you want, but just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen. Over time, the snows melt, the rains come, the seeds sprout, the pants grow and drop new seeds…it’s a process, but it leads to something quite spectacular. It’s worth the wait!
The writer of the Isaiah passage imagines God saying, “My words…succeed in doing what I send them to do. So you
will go out with joy. You will be led out in peace.”
That writer seemed to believe that God wants us to be happy; God wants us to have peace of mind. And so, if things are not just right yet, we can comfort ourselves with inner reserves of hope, and keep waiting for what God wants and for what we want…for things to work out in a way that will contribute to our happiness. And we can summon that hope with the power of our own positive thoughts and words. Our affirmations will activate our hope, and hope can sustain us until things improve. Our words will succeed in doing what we send them to do…they will activate our hope which will sustain us until we can experience peace and joy.
Our attitudes will bear fruit. Our prayers will bear fruit. That tree will bear fruit. It may take some more work and some more time, but fruits of peace, hope, and achievement are on the way. And this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2016
I will not give up on myself.
Breakthroughs are possible.
Miracles are worth the wait!