Good Soil

It’s a new year. It’s a new semester. As Pastor Jim reflected in last week’s article, it’s the season of resolutions. We’ve hit a reset button on the calendar and on the course schedule, and the sense of newness fills us with the hope – and the resolve – that change is possible.

I found it striking that for my first sermon of the semester – on the very first day of classes – the scheduled Bible passage was Jesus’s Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20). As Jesus interprets the parable, he talks about God’s word being sown like seed…and then he describes the many ways that seed can be kept from growing and flowering. What he says could also ring true for all those things with the potential to thwart our resolutions. 

Events outside of our control swoop in and wreak havoc. Lies or doubts get under our skin and pull us in different directions. We get distracted by our other desires (“that cookie looks way better than that apple”). We start off excited and committed, but then the change is more uncomfortable than we’d hoped, or we just get tired, and we find ourselves falling back into our normal routines. And so the seeds we planted in January with such hope never produce the blooms we wanted.

The successful seeds, Jesus says simply and without further explanation, are “the ones sown on the good soil.” Which leaves us to ask: what makes for good soil? What makes our lives fertile ground for knowing God and for living by our best intentions?

The parable invites us to step back. Before we commit ourselves to a big change, before we get over-excited for our new goals, before we get distracted or exhausted or ashamed, we need to prepare the ground of our lives. 

Committed gardeners do a lot of work for good soil. They know the type of soil each particular plant needs: loamy? Sandy?  They consider its pH levels, its balance of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium, the kind of pests making their homes there. Different plants thrive under different conditions, and different patches of soil need different kinds of attention.

So what about “the soil of human life”? God designed us in such a way that we, too, need certain nutrients and certain conditions to really thrive. Water and nutritious food. Rest and play. Supportive relationships. A sense of security. A sense of purpose. 

What’s lacking in your soil? What needs more attention? What do you have the power to change for yourself?

Maybe your New Year’s resolutions are already along those basic lines: a commitment to eating healthier foods, exercising more, getting more sleep. If that’s the case — what kind of other support do you need to make that easier for you?

I fit the Valpo mold in that I tend to be over-committed to work. During my first year here, I loaded my Sundays with activities. After all, I thought, it’s one of my work days. Morning worship was already on the schedule, but then I added meetings and a Bible study (which needed prep-work), and I made myself available for appointments. By the time I arrived for evening worship, I was often exhausted and cranky and found it difficult to be patient and present for my students.

After some…let’s say, “firm encouragement” from my supervisor, I stopped loading up my Sundays. I scheduled nap time after preaching. I removed Sunday from my appointment scheduling app. I did a bit of other work, but it was from home and more “introverted” — writing and researching that would help me feel better prepared for my upcoming deadlines. And after making those changes, I showed up for evening worship feeling like a different person. Better able to listen and care for my students. Not only feeling better, but better at my work, too.

I prepared my soil, and I saw the good growth.

Take a moment. Slow down. Don’t just demand change from yourself, but intentionally give yourself what you need to grow that change in your life.

– Pastor Kate

Rev. Katherine Museus and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and take turns writing weekly devotions.

January 17, 2024