I, the brownest of brown thumbs, have been planting things in my backyard. I planted strawberries in hanging baskets on my deck. They’re already blushing and I can’t wait to eat them. I planted peas, but they’re too shy to make an appearance yet. I also planted potatoes in a trash can. Yep, in a trash can.
As I’ve planted, I’ve learned about dirt. I learned that you shouldn’t plant strawberries where you’ve recently grown potatoes because the potatoes will have leached necessary nutrients from the ground and your strawberries will die of starvation.
I’ve been thinking about dirt a lot and how farmers would plant for six years and let the ground lay fallow for a year (Exodus 23:10). This was practiced by descendants of tribes of Israel-the descendants of God’s chosen people-and not by other tribes.
Nothing would be planted for a full year. The ground would be left to rest, to be fertilized by animal poop, and to recover the nutrients that were lost. My favorite definition of fallow is, “to be let alone.” I love the idea of just leaving the soil alone, of not touching a single grain, or tilling even a row.
Some years we just have to be let alone.
I don’t know about you, but I just survived that kind of year. A year where I got pooped on a lot and it felt like my very bones were leached dry, a fallow year for sure. So many of us on the board of Vigilante Kindness have been navigating fallowness this year, a year where nothing new was planted, a year of letting the soil sit.
I’m incredibly bad at letting the soil sit. I want to do what I want, when I want, but planting doesn’t work that way and neither does following God. That’s a sure way to kill the things you so desperately want to grow in your garden and in your life.
After a year, the farmers would come and tend to the soil. First they’d pull out masses of overgrown, thorny weeds, removing any remaining thing that would suck water and nutrients away from the new crop. Then they’d till, turning the ground over, breaking it up, letting in light, letting in air. The ground would be noticeably darker than the year before, fertile and ready for seeds.
Vigilantes, I didn’t know how to tell you about this year, how to tell you why I didn’t go to Uganda and why I’ve been quiet. I’ve been laying fallow. Maybe you have, too.
Did you know that the root word for fallow is the same root word for Sabbath and that both mean to rest? So rest I did. I didn’t go to Uganda. I didn’t start any new projects. I said no and I listened when God said no to me, which was difficult because I had some thorny pride that needed to be yanked out by the roots.
But the beauty of leaving a field fallow comes at the end of the year, comes in the recovery of what was lost, and in the eventual green of new growth.
A verse that’s been on repeat in my mind is Hosea 10:12.
“Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you.”
Isn’t that just the best news? In the hardest of times, you can wait with expectation because the time for tending to the fallow ground is coming. Your parched bones can stand with buckets at the ready for the Lord to rain down righteousness on you.
The NIV translation says it a little differently:
“Sow with righteousness and reap the fruit of unfailing love.”
In the throes of my horribly hard year, I can say in my soul that I have known and felt the tender, unfailing love of God.
I hope you have, too. If you need a reminder, come on over, I’ll let you pick the best strawberries and I’ll feed you trash can potatoes. I’ll sit with you-dusty, dry, worn out, fallow, utterly lovely you.
I’ll remind you that you’re God’s chosen person, that it’s good and necessary to rest, and that the time will come for you to break ground again.