Once a young man, seeking a reorientation toward the Divine, sought out a monastery for a week of solitude among the contemplatives. When his restless spirit arrived he was assigned to work alongside a very old and slightly hunched monk whose job it was to attend to a garden within the monastery’s vast courtyard. The garden was neither large nor grand, but a weedy, contemptuous piece of dirt where vegetable plants and flowers eeked out a tough existence. The young man fell into the silent work beside the monk, and for two days dirtied his knees and hands as he tended the garden and plants. However, when the third day approached, the man could no longer take the silence, nor the repetitive scenery and tasks. He marveled at the monk who worked silently beside him and began asking questions:
“Why do you work all day every day in this small garden?”
“It is the job I was assigned,” replied the monk.
“Don’t you ever get bored, or want to do something else?”
“This is how my life is to bring glory to God, to tend the earth here and to make beauty from this dirt,” stated the soft spoken monk.
The man was perplexed. It seemed that the monk was perfectly content to live out the rest of his days in this dingy little garden. With one final prompt the man asked, “But if you knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Jesus was coming back this weekend and all this work would end in a new creation, that these flowers would never bloom and that these vegetable plants would never get a chance to produce vegetables, what would you do with your life?”
The old monk finished struggling with a weed, rolled back on his knees and said, “I think I would continue weeding this garden. This is my small part, and this garden is where I am able to glorify God. I would want Jesus to come back and find me working ceaselessly in this garden.”
Last week I had a breakfast meeting with a minister in which we discussed various topics, and spent some time musing on the shift of Christianity’s epicenter to the global south, and the ensuing implications for the western church. In the midst of these conversations, I was asked how I was handling this time in the states, as it has been nearly a year since I returned. I began trying to formulate my thoughts, stating pros and cons of being in the states, but ultimately, some frustrations surfaced, and I wondered out loud how long I was going to “have to be here.”
The minister paused for a second, and then very politely punched me in the face by asking a very simple question, “Do you suppose this time in the states is meant for something?”
I was immediately reminded of the story of monastic gardening, and also reminded, somewhat abashedly, that I had posted this same story to my old blog back in 2013 as I was awaiting my initial departure to Nairobi.
It seems the lesson has not quite sunk in yet.
And so, as another week gears up, I am contemplating the jobs I have been tasked with, and asking myself whether these too are meant to glorify God, or whether God can only be glorified in work done overseas. Of course, the answer to that question is easy, the hard part comes in convincing the heart. And so, as we all begin our work afresh, looking towards this week of productivity in whichever task God has set before us, let us seek to do our jobs to the glory of God, so that should He return, He should find us diligently working, prepared for the coming Kingdom.