Culture At Large

Gardening: Act of worship or poor stewardship?

Josh Larsen

I spent most of a recent Saturday hauling wheelbarrows full of mulch all over my yard, and one thing that soothed the increasing aches and pains was the fact that the mulch itself had come free, courtesy of my city’s chipper program.

This isn’t just thrift speaking, although the savings made it easier to overlook the large sticks and Christmas tree branches that poked out of the second-hand offerings. (For rich, crumbly mulch, you have to pay.) Though they helped the family budget, the freebies also helped ease the occasionally guilty conscience I have about the act of gardening.

Since trading in a second-floor Chicago condo for an expansive suburban yard a handful of years ago, my wife and I have embraced gardening in a way I never would have guessed (at least on my part). Few Saturdays are more enjoyable than those unscheduled rarities which allow us to do little more than putter around the yard, planting new perennials, moving a bush from here to there. On those unhurried days, I don’t even mind mowing the lawn.

One could argue – and I often do to myself – that this is, in its own way, an act of worship. I rarely appreciate the breadth and beauty of God’s natural world more than while planting, tending or simply walking among the trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs He has given us.

And yet, this comes at a cost. Financially – I cringe when I think about past mulch bills – and in terms of time. Could our money and our talents be better spent? Should that significant gardening budget be donated instead and our open Saturdays spent serving meals at a local shelter?

Furthermore, is there something broken about gardening itself? It is, after all, mankind’s insistence on controlling, altering and “ordering” God’s natural world. Would a truer act of worship be to appreciate the wildness of an untouched forest rather than a carefully cultivated and enormously expensive botanical garden or arboretum?

I realize Christians have larger, more pressing concerns. But these are the sort of questions that can pop into your head when you’re lugging mulch all day and the mind is free to wander. Do any other gardeners have similar thoughts, or was the heat simply getting to me?

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