A Beautiful Garden
I haven't always loved gardens because of the sheer amount of work and dedication required to keep them in good shape. However, following our move out of London some 15 years ago in the middle of summer to the English countryside, I was forced to develop a love for gardening, even though we have a small garden, the front of the house came with a large flower bed covered in shrubs with seasonal flowers. As the first couple of days in our new neighbourhood rolled into weeks, one of our neighbours at the time caught me on my way out one day, highlighting the fact that the front garden is now covered in weeds, as if I hadn't noticed it myself! She went on to explain that our weeds infested flowerbed was cross-pollinating her front garden, which she wasn’t pleased about. I gave a polite response that once I've had a chance to unpack inside, I will deal with the weed-infested garden!
Up until our move I'd done very little gardening as we had a gardener who visited fortnightly to provide the necessary maintenance while living in London. However, her unhappy prompt made me realise that a little effort would be required on my part to keep up with appearance where the garden is concern. Therefore, I searched high and low in those early days but quickly discovered that gardeners & cleaners were like gold dust in our new community and those who had them guarded their contact detail to avoid any poaching.
As I enquired on the road, I discovered one of our neighbours at the time was a horticulturist, and therefore approached her, however she was quick to inform me of her already full schedule and therefore unable to take on any further work, but was willing to train and guide me through maintaining the garden. I leapt to the offer with a grateful heart, you see having grown up in Nigeria, gardening as we know them in the West were not so common in Nigeria at the time, and if you do have one, then society simply doesn't expect you to maintain them yourself with so many less fortunate people that can be called upon to provide the service.
My training took many months, during which I noticed so many beautiful gardens in the area and delight at the opportunity to spend time in those gardens once in a while as well as the many beautiful fields and forest nearby. The first lesson was to turn over the soil to aid weeding the ground, having been ignored for months at the time; it was a slow and painstaking task. Once the soil was turned over I had to remove any excess stones from the ground. After weeks of turning over the soil one patch at a time and weeding, my mentor ordered some fertilisers in the form of horse dung to nourish the soil which resulted in an outbreak of worms in the front garden: Having learnt the lesson the hard way I’ve since used manufactured compost instead! This was promptly followed by lessons on planting new shrubs and flowers, whilst ensuring the new additions were strategically positioned to create a beautify display.
I quickly realised that the prim and proper gardens I'd seen all over town are a work of art with an intense labour of love. Following all the ground work, breathing a sigh of relieve, I assumed my job is done, and I can sit back and relax, only to discover that the garden required regular maintenance, not only at my convenience, but consistently and patiently if I truly desired a beautiful garden. As we moved through the autumn months, my lessons focused on the annual pruning of the shrubs to aid growth in the next season and weeding to keep the soil in top condition to maintain healthy plants.
Like the nurturing of children the plants needed to be fed and watered until they flourish and mature and therefore I came to appreciate the level of work, commitment and time that goes into establishing and maintaining a beautiful & matured garden.
During this season of learning to maintain a garden, the Lord began to speak to be on the issue of building a prayer place just like one would create and maintain a beautiful garden. He went on to draw a comparison of been presented with two plots of land, one representing my prayer place and the other my physical garden with both requiring commitment, discipline and time to maintains as well as patience to nurture to maturity. The Lord drew many parallels between the two, emphasising how both require regular maintenance and love. It's been a while since this conversation with the Lord and now I can liken my prayer place to a beautifully matured garden full of healthy trees, shrubs, flowers and a beautiful green lawn, with the shrubs and trees shaped and pruned to perfection and the flower beds free of weeds, brambles, and stinging nettles.
And just like my training on maintaining the garden, I have to regularly turn over the soil and remove the stones, add fertilisers and water the ground. In turning over the soil I expose all blemishes of the heart and mind to the Lord, whilst removing the stones equates to confessing any known and unknown sins or things that so easily beset me to the Lord. And then add the fertiliser in the form of the Word of God and water the ground of my prayer place with praise and worship. Like the natural garden, I also strategically position my various types of prayer and worship to build a beautiful garden that the Lord is welcome to invade as He so wishes just like he did in the Garden of Eden.
Over the years I've learnt the art of giving the physical garden a seasonal boost by adding seasonal plants & flowers to change the scenery and the same principle has been applied to my prayer place as my worship, study of the Word of God, reading inspiring books on prayer and praying in the Spirit takes my prayer place to greater depth. I've also learnt that just as you never stop maintaining the physical garden, I have to keep my prayer place in good order; and just as my natural garden serves me well for years, providing a place of fun & activity for family and friends, the same goes for my prayer place.
I came to the conclusion that just as there are no shortcuts to establishing a beautiful & matured garden that would serve you for years, there is no short cut to building a beautiful prayer place that will serve you for the rest of your days, both takes time, money, effort, and commitment. And therefore, I began to understand why those with beautiful physical gardens guard and protect them like a prized possession and the same applies to a well-established and matured prayer place that is fit for the King of Heaven.
More recently I've managed to secure a good gardener who has released me from the majority of the work involved in maintaining the garden whilst allowing me to enjoy the garden more. I've also recently had the back garden landscaped, which prompted this post. In the years since my training by my helpful neighbour, I've come to love, and delight in gardens both big or small whilst my spiritual journey has further awakened my love for them, with various visions of myself in the Garden of Eden. My spiritual journey prompted many questions as to why the Lord chose to plant a garden as man's first home when he could have built a palatial resident on land or sea. Over time I've come to realise that gardens exhibit life, from plants, trees, wildlife & insects as well as lakes and ponds from larger gardens, creating a beautiful scenery flowing with life. And now when I stroll through an extensive and beautiful gardens like Kew Garden it further affirms to me why God loves gardens so much that He not only made it man's first resident, He felt comfortable enough in it himself that He was often found walking in the cool of the day through the Garden of Eden.
I realise that whilst we've come to embrace and enjoy the concept of a beautifully matured garden, we often forget that there is a spiritual dimension to the garden. In the first garden the “Tree of Life” representing the gift of eternal life took centre stage whilst the “River” that ran through the garden signified the presence of the Holy Spirit in the garden. However, even our knowledge of hearing some people who have had out of body experience explain of how they found themselves in a beautiful meadow or garden has not help many to make the connection of the spiritual dimension. Therefore, could it be that if we take the time to invite the Lord into our well-cultured gardens that like the Garden of Eden, the Lord would be found walking in the cool of the day waiting for us to fellowship with him just like Adam & Eve had done?
So with my new landscaped garden, I'm looking forward to creating a beautiful place for us to enjoy and relax with family & friends as well as a place where the Lord is welcome to sit & fellowship whenever He so wishes; after all "The Garden" as we know it is first & foremost God's idea - So why not invite Him into yours today!