Cultivating a Restful Heart
Pandemic gardening is being recognized as a popular coping mechanism for the complex and uncertain times we find ourselves in. I am one of those people who planted what is now being called a “pandemic garden.” About the same time that we were issued stay at home orders and were declared to be in a pandemic, I decided I’d try something I always wanted to do – plant a garden. My motivation was to have homegrown tomatoes like my grandmother used to grow. My mouth waters as I write those words. No one could grow tomatoes like my grandmother did. But I was ready to give it a try. After all, I was working from home and I had time to water and feed and check on my garden every day. I nurtured the plants along, treating them for unwanted pests and watching for buds to indicate what I was doing was working – that the outcome I desired would come about and I would see (and eventually eat) the “fruit” of my labor.
When I consider my life with God, the “fruit” I long for in times like these is a heart at rest in Christ. Yet, just as cultivating a garden provides so much more than the fruit it produces, so cultivating a restful heart offers so much more than attaining a sense of peace or quiet in my soul. Through the process of spending time with God and nurturing my relationship with Him, my heart is arrested and transformed in His presence.
I am reminded of the words of the psalmist, David: “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:1-2(ESV)
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the first part of verse two in this way, “I have cultivated a quiet heart.” The word picture created by the use of the term “cultivated” in this context offers rich insight. As I learned in gardening, cultivating isn’t a one-time event. It is a process that takes time; it involves careful attention and intentionality. As I cultivate a restful heart, I slow down to listen for the voice of Jesus, reflect on my belovedness in Him, and long for the future through the lens of steadfast trust in the One who holds the unknown.
Cultivating a garden has been deeply satisfying for me. Though I like eating the things that grow in my garden, I have truly enjoyed the process of caring for the garden, too. I have planted, fertilized, watered, and inspected my garden each day - and giving it attention has brought a sense of satisfaction. Likewise, nurturing my life with God through spiritual practices creates genuine contentment. He created me for relationship with Him and I am meant to enjoy Him in intimate communion.
Below are some practices that are helpful for me as I seek to cultivate a restful heart through spending time in the presence of God.
1. One of the things I find most helpful is resting in the presence of God in quiet trust through scripture meditation. These are some passages I have found helpful to meditate upon: Psalm 105:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, Psalm 86:8-13, Colossians 3:1-4 (MSG)
2. I have found deep contentment in praying Psalm 131 as I picture myself resting in the arms of Christ. I listen for His loving, peaceful words as the Spirit speaks over me.
3. I honestly share my thoughts, concerns, and fears with God just as David did throughout the Psalms. And like David, I confess my trust in His steadfast love. Psalm 33:12-22 is a wonderful template I use in this practice.
I have found that keeping company with Jesus and offering Him my restless heart to nurture brings a beautiful return – fruit that I could never attain on my own, apart from Him. The Spirit of God restores, heals, and brings my heart to life. When my heart is restful, I slow down and listen better - both to God and to others. My restful heart trusts in the steadfastness of God and gives ample room for the Holy Spirit to speak. In quietness of heart I am more sensitive to the voice of Jesus. I enjoy my relationship with God, longing and hungering for the Spirit with a growing desire to worship God and walk in His ways. Ultimately, with my heart at rest in the One who knows and loves me best, I am better able to give to others with the love I’ve been given.
And in case you are wondering, yes, I did get the wonderful homegrown tomatoes I anticipated from my garden.
This blog is one in a new series of blogs, Spiritual Disciplines for Times Like These.
Also see these blogs:
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton