I grew up thinking seeds didn't work.
Yes, seeds. The little tiny life-holding compartments of rebirth and new growth that you stick in the dirt and wait on something green to pop up. I figured the ones you bought in the store were special, that they did something different to those seeds. Because mine weren't working.
I spent a great deal of my time picking apart those little helicopter seed pods from the maple tree in my front yard. And with a pencil, I'd go around poking the little green seeds into the ground, waiting for signs of new trees to appear. For years, I planted helicopter seeds. Probably nine or ten years, to be sure. And not a single new tree grew. Not a single stem. Not a single new leaf. Nothing.
Not that long ago, I was sitting on the porch showing my niece and nephew how to take apart the helicopter and find the seed, and I found myself both smiling and a little sad as I relayed to them the lie that if they planted the seed, a new tree would grow. I knew it was a lie; I'd been trying my whole life and couldn't figure it out. Then in that way that adults do around children, I looked up at my mother like the kids couldn't hear me and admitted that those darned seeds never grew for me.
"I picked so many of those new little plants out of my yard," my mother said. "I couldn't figure out where they were all coming from."
All these years, all those seeds, all those hopes....and it was my mother who thwarted my efforts? Hmph.
Jesus warned about such things. Sort of. He warned about the hope we have in seeds, cautioned about what to look for when planting. Some seed, he says, falls by the road and is trampled. Some is eaten by the birds. Some falls on rocky soil and withers away as soon as it sprouts. Some falls among the thorns and is choked out. And some falls on good soil and sprouts... (Luke 8)
...only to be plucked by the mother.
I kid. Sort of.
As I was mowing the yard a week or so ago, I came across the sprout of a maple tree in my backyard, the product of a fallen helicopter seed that had taken root in my soil without my deliberate planting. I smiled, then I laughed out loud, because here was my tree. This is what I'd hoped my whole life to see.
It got me thinking about the other things I've planted in my life, the other seeds I've sown. It's easy to give up after awhile, to think that these seeds don't work. That there's something special done to the commercial seeds, the ones you get retail, the little bits of truth that come from the store (or in this case, the church). But the truth is that you're growing things, too. Whatever you're planting is sprouting, whether you see it growing or not.
Maybe it does fall by the side of the road and someone tramples it or snatches it away before it makes much of a difference. That's ok; it was still there, at least for a short while. Maybe it does fall on rocky soil and wither away before it takes firm root. That's ok, too. It was still there, at least for a short while. Maybe it sprouts up amid thorns and is crowded out. That's ok. It was still there, at least for a short while.
Maybe your mother comes and pulls it up by its teeny tiny roots and crushes both its chances and your hopes. That's ok, too. For awhile, it grew. And who knows what it was doing while it was growing.
Whether the seeds you're planting last or don't last, it makes a difference that they are growing now. Germinating. Under the soil or just above the surface, growing or stagnating. Because someone is noticing them. My mother noticed every single one of those baby maple trees, like them or not. People see what you do, like it or not. They're watching. You're planting seeds. And they're growing somewhere, they're growing something.
Now that I've seen the fragile leaves of a little maple sprout, I smile when I tell my niece and nephew about the seeds. And I think about the ones I'm planting.