I finished reading Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life by Lara Casey about a month ago. Here’s a snippet from the back of the book: “Welcome to the journey of getting messy in the rich soil of possibility — embracing imperfect, grace-filled progress to grow a life of joy. . . Find the joy and the freedom that comes in cultivating what matters, little by little, with God’s transforming grace” (emphasis by me). The book is filled with Lara’s own anecdotes, action steps toward cultivation, and prompts and thought questions for her readers. The biggest theme in this book is the concept of growing a garden. But what strikes me the most is the emphasis on small steps causing big change, progress over perfection.
The Discontent Cycle
Our society as a whole is completely engrossed with the idea of getting what we want and getting what we want now — which isn’t a new concept. With this, we’re each searching for a purpose. Unfortunately, it’s easy to look for quick fixes to our problems and try to cover up scratches with Band-Aids that we think will get us by instead of looking for the root of healing. The scary thing about this is that the more immediate gratification we look for, the further we are from purpose.
It comes from a place of impatience and discontent.
In the 8-10 year-old Bible class I’ve been teaching at church, we’ve talked about the Israelites in the context of what God is good at. Right now that’s life and bread. The Book of Exodus tells us that God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and guided to Canaan (the land promised to Abraham for his descendants). The Israelites picked up the habit of complaining about pretty much everything, especially food and water. It was a vicious cycle, but even though these people complained, God still provided. Each time God provided, they were happy for while, and then discontent set in.
God’s plan was to take care of them, but they were looking for instant gratification and overlooking their Provider.
There were consequences to their sinfulness, but God still offered a way to deep joy and contentment if they chose to accept it: Himself.
On the other hand, Hannah, who was infertile and yearning for a child of her own, also knew the Provider. Instead of complaining and becoming bitter, she chose to pray and trust God, and vowed to dedicate her child to the Lord if He blessed her with one. As with the Israelites, God provided and blessed Hannah, but unlike the Israelites, she praised God, kept her promise, and dedicated Samuel to God’s service in the temple. Hannah let each part of her situation grow her faith instead of becoming selfishly complacent. She remained faithful and God was continually with her (1 Samuel).
What the Israelites demonstrated is no different from those Band-Aids. We move through life discontented until we see that God has provided us a good thing. So, we take that good thing, thank God briefly, and keep going in the same direction, bandaging instead of going to the Provider. It’s a process of constant taking and never giving, never living in thankfulness.
The Israelites lived on surface-level faith, while Hannah dwelled in deep faith that was so obviously her root. The difference was fully embracing God and His plan.
God has provided the same way to joy and contentment for us as He did them so long ago (something Hannah recognized): again, it’s Him. To cultivate this within ourselves, we have to learn to go deeper into our hearts to figure out what needs to be tended to and trust God to guide us through the process.
Progress + Little-By-Little
Once we’ve started digging deeper, trying to find the root to cultivate, it’s easy to get caught up in the cycle again. We’re eager, we hit the ground running, pray our way through it, think we find the fix, and forget God. Inevitably, more challenges arise; at this point we have two choices:
give up completely or give it completely to God.
Acorns are pretty common around my house. We trample them underfoot, dismissing them as squirrel food. But an acorn cultivated can become something mighty. In John’s Island, South Carolina, stands the massive Angel Oak tree that is more than five hundred years old, sixty-six feet tall, and twenty-eight feet in circumference. It produces shade that covers 17,200 square feet. And it started with a common acorn.
There is power in a single seed.
A kind word spoken.
A leap of faith taken.
A goal cultivated.
And in the simple yet profound act of taking one step forward.”
(p. 75, Cultivate, emphasis by me)
It takes one step, and then another, and then another. . . until we reach the end goal — in this case contentment, embracing God’s plan.
little by little.
When you read the Bible as a whole, you understand that all sixty-six books point to Jesus Christ. God created the world with a purpose for mankind, and He began Jesus’ lineage with the seed of one man: Abraham. Besides Abraham, there are several men and women — some of whom aren’t even named — who took one step forward in faith, but left profound legacies. Many of them didn’t know that their little-by-little was going to be recorded as a faith-builder for the rest of time, but because of their little-by-little, we can rest assured that God will carry us through.
As the Bible story unfolds, we see that not every action leading to the eventual death and resurrection of Christ is elaborate, and many story-changing people weren’t well-known by the people of their time. The Bible is an unfolding plan of progress with the most beautiful outcome. While the people in God’s story weren’t perfect, His plan is. This perfect plan we read about them is the same plan made for us — our purpose. So, we, imperfect people, have to embrace the little-by-little as progress toward our purpose, no matter what that little-by-little is and no matter what it might bring.
And this is where we give it to Him.