Slouched down in my leather seat in a crowded railway car, I was being gently rocked to sleep by the rhythmic swaying back and forth of the old train clattering across the Polish countryside. Returning from a student conference in the mountains where I had been teaching and counseling with college students all weekend had left me a bit weary, lonely and depleted. Working through translators for each message was a slow, tedious process.
As an American woman, I felt the cultural distance between me and these youth who had grown up under a supressive, Communist government. The religious freedom I had taken so for granted, made these students eager to know about God, about Jesus, about a kingdom in heaven where they would be free and blessed by the God who made them. Exhaustion tended to exagerate cultural differences and made me feel somewhat isolated as a 24 year old, struggling to understand even a portion of the things that were spoken to me. I remember riding along in the car wondering if I would ever not feel lonely.
Suddenly, the train took a small bend and in front of me were fields of thousands upon thousands of bright red poppies, gently swaying in the wind. Fields of poppies, obviously growing wild, spread over miles of the countryside. I was mesmerized by the beauty and found myself wondering how long it had taken for these beautiful flowers to be planted over the years so that there would be so many everywhere.
I began to imagine the invisible hand of God intentionally spreading seed generously over the many fields, so that in a country where there had been so much division, war and darkness for so many generations, that there would still be a picture of His beauty, creation and life to comfort those who would see it. That it would draw their thoughts and hearts, like it did mine, to thoughts of Him who was the artist of such beauty.
This has become to me a sort of picture of my place in the world. Jesus often talked about sowing seed in many of His parables. The people of His time were tied more closely to farming, sowing, reaping because their very lives depended on the well-being of the crops as their source of food.
James 3:18 says, "The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." I desire that there be a harvest of righteousness in and through my life as big and expansive as the poppy fields of my memory. This verse would indicate that righteousness is sown by peacemakers. Jesus communicated to His disciples in Matthew 5: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." Jesus himself, gave His life so that we might have peace with God. His whole being is focussed on redeeming, buying back that which was lost, bringing life where there is death.
Those who sow with tears will reap with joy.
I am most like Him when I, too, become a peacemaker, a redeemer, bringing peace where there was hostility, life where there is death. But the reason I so like the verse in James is that it brings us a picture of what we must do to bring this harvest of righteousness about--we must sow the seeds of righteousness, seed by seed, so that our harvest will be plentiful. We must sow seeds daily---weekly--for our whole lives, that there will be remnants of His beauty, peace, redemption, everywhere we go, every day that we live. If we sow peace and not anger in our home, there will be a legacy of peace. If we sow anger, a legacy of anger and death. It is a choice we make, every day, every hour, as to what we are sowing and what we will reap.
The seeds I sow are in relationship to people in my life every day. I must make a decision in my heart to sow a seed of peace where there is strife--to choose to be a peace-maker and to sow God's love and redemption. I must sow seeds of encouragement and faith through my words and through my writing to bring others to the point of peace in their own lives. Seed by seed, choice by choice, I have the ability to bring about a great harvest that will be ready for reaping in the final day when I meet Jesus face to face. But in order for a farmer to have a harvest, he must plan on what he will sow, he must plan the seeds he will plant---it doesn't happen by chance. So I must choose what crop I will sow, how I will sow it, and choose to sow it in each situation and in each relationship that God brings my way. Peace and redemption also do not just happen by chance in my own life. There had to be an intentional plan.
There are times when I get letters from people---sometimes even hostile letters--that criticize my Pollyanna approach to life. Recently, a weary mom wrote, "I am sick of hearing about your perfect children! I am unsubscribing from your newsletter."
Now, I always take emails that I receive to heart. It seems that the meaning behind this letter, was that I only see and report the positive things about my family---and that I put forth only those things which I think are perfect. I hope that I never give the impression that I am perfect, or that my children are perfect or that my marriage is perfect, or anything else is perfect. I would hate to impose guilt on anyone, because of creating false standards through the stories of my articles, that someone else feels they can't immulate. I hope instead to always point my sweet friends to the One who has so befriended me. As a matter of fact, I have only made it this far because I so depend on God's grace and when I feel inadequate or like a failure, which I think all women do from time to time, there is a place I have trained myself to go--where Jesus is. I tell Him how I am feeling and then by faith, I acknowledge how grateful I am that He has made me adequate in Himself, by His strength, through His love and for His glory. I seek to rest there, as staying and simmering and swimming in the sea of guilt is destructive and heart-killing.
I have discovered that no matter how hard I try, I often fall short of my own expectations---let alone the expectations of others. If this is true of me, that I fail--even when trying--then I must understand that even the best and most mature person I know, will also fail herself and me! So, my choice in my writing and in my life, is to give a picture of ideals for which I strive, in the context of the messy world in which I live. I want to sow a picture of beauty, a field of hope, and pattern of unconditional love in the midst of fields of life where there are weeds, rocks and untilled ground.
I have had a history of people very close to me who live in anger and criticism. This sowing of strife has left a string of broken relationships, deep hurt, alienation. Sometimes I am afraid to be around these people because no matter how hard I try or what I say or do, I know that eventually I will do something to arouse their criticism again. (I am choosing not to name these people as they are very close to me and I don't want to unnecessarily hurt them.) I used to think that if I just tried hard enough or did enough, eventually I would receive the acceptance I was looking for.
But it took many years, to realize that their anger and criticism had nothing to do with me and no matter how hard I tried, I would never be acceptable to them, because the problem was in their own dark and hurting heart. But in order to have in my heart a harvest of peace, and not bitterness or anger; and a harvest of love and not hate and retaliation, I had to seek to plant seeds of God's righteousness, in order that my heart would truly bear a harvest of His making. This required that I pondered what it meant to be like God, to understand through His word, that love covers a multitude of sin; to learn that Jesus Himself, when He was being crucified, "while being reviled, did not revile in return, but kept trusting Himself to God who judges righteously." (I Peter 2:23) He became my model--that I would choose not to revile those who were angry or negative, but that I, like Jesus, would keep trusting myself to God---to place my issues in His file cabinets and to let Him deal with my difficulties, and then to close the drawer once these issues were safe in His hands.
Instead of hoping that those near me would love me in such a way as to make me feel good about myself, I just kept reading the word everyday----seeking to know my God better, pondering the stories of Jesus, thinking about His communication to me through how He lived and what He said. Now, as I am getting older, I find His love to be deeply satisfying. After literally thousands of hours in His presence over the years, I have been influenced by being in the company of someone so compassionate, loving and strong. I have made peace with Him and appreciate Him. In doing so, I learned that I could give that peace more easily to others, because I didn't have as many expectations of them and I wasn't as dependent on how they responded to me, in order to feel good about myself.
What you sow, you will reap.
However, I see a lot of people wasting time, effort and energy in being critical of others close to themselves. There is a lot of anger, disappointment, jealousy, hate and bitterness floating around in the lives of people, that color their view of life, suck the energy out of them, and cause them to wonder where God has gone. It is so easy to be critical of a family member or of our husbands and wallow in unmet expectations, or friends who have forsaken us, or in a child who has gone astray or is just immature or has a personality flaw that drives us crazy, or a parent who has abused or rejected us for our values.
James also spoke to this in the same passage where he taught about sowing peace. His words, "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, (getting our own way), there is dis-order and every evil thing! But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering and without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:13-18)
It starts with a choice--to allow the Holy Spirit to be Lord of our lives, even in the midst of strife; to decide ahead of time to imagine what it looks like to bring peace and redemption to each moment of life; to choose to sow righteousness into our relationships, because He chose to sow righteousness and peace into our lives, even at great cost to Himself. I believe that if thousands of His followers chose to sow this way each day, on all of the fields of life, there would be such a great crop of righteousness, visible beauty of His life, even in a place where so much darkness exists, that many hearts would be open to Him and to His ways, because of the overwhelming crop of righteousness present before their eyes. But it all begins with a choice in my heart and a plan to sow today, this day, in these fields where I find myself.
Whoever it is that brings so much emotional disappointment can keep us from the comforting love of God if we never make it to the point of forgiveness and acceptance of the person and circumstances. I know how deeply it can hurt to be rejected or ignored or treated unjustly. I have shed many tears over many years.
Yet, I can honestly say, that it has been these difficulties that have brought me to a place of freedom and joy. I have desperately needed the grace of God and in so seeking it, I have found it to be deeper than even I could imagine. He has shown me how deep His love is for me and how much He wants me to give as deeply to those in my life, who like me, don't deserve it, but need it all the same.