Farming and Faith
I am not a farm girl. I did not grow up in a rural community. However, both of my grandparents were raised on farms, and they would often speak fondly of life on the farm. Yet, even in the midst of their nostalgic stories, I also heard the harsh realities of a life which depended on unpredictable factors such as the weather, soil, and cycles of growth.
One of the greatest blessings of my ministry is that I have had the opportunity to not only serve churches of various sizes, but also churches with a variety of industries in their communities. Even though I am not a farm girl, it was the churches in which a good portion of the membership were farmers that I developed a deep level of respect for farming. I also saw the incredible parallels of the farming life to a life of deep abiding faith.
In these last few weeks as I have driven past flooded fields, my heart has been breaking for our farmers. I have spent many commuting hours considering the immense faith it must take for many of our farmers in southern Illinois to get up each day not knowing how this harvest might shape up for them. The truth is they know there is no time for complaining or the wringing of hands, only waiting patiently, paying close attention to conditions, to make adjustments as needed and to seize the opportunities to be out in the field to do the work when those windows of time open up.
A farmer’s work is a daily wresting with the soil, with the weather and with so many things that are simply out of their direct control. There is a beautiful rhythm, an ebb and flow to this work to which they have been called which I find awe inspiring. The researching, the planning, the planting, the monitoring, the coaxing, the watching, the waiting, the searching, the scrutinizing, and the seizing of the moment are all a part of the faith cycle of this work. Within the waiting time, there is also a deep-seated process of giving time and space for the sun and the rain to play their parts as well as observing the mysterious and miraculous God-created work of seeds becoming spouts and eventually becoming plants or stalks.
Thus, it should not surprise us that the scriptures encourage us to look no further than the farmer to see the qualities of the steadfast believer. Here are some of the qualities that I see and I encourage you to consider.
First, farming is not about one season, one harvest, one year. Rather, farming is a way of life. It is a lifetime commitment. In many ways, it is a covenant between the land (creation), themselves, (part of God’s beloved, created ones) and God (the Creator and Author of all life). We are called, regardless of whether we are farmers ourselves, to this same covenant. This covenant requires us to have a broader and longer view of life. It is not about instant growth, instant rewards or instant results. This covenant is about a life-long commitment.
Secondly, farming is not about easy, quick work with solid guarantees. Those who are honest about farm life will tell you it is HARD work and it is RISKY work. This particular start of our summer in southern Illinois and most of the Midwest is proof of this.
You might invest in maintenance and upkeep of pricey machinery and tools. You might research and purchase the best seed, the fertilizer, and insecticides. You might plot and plan. You might work, sweat, and toil for more hours than you care to recount. Yet, all of this does not guarantee good crops or a good harvest. The same is true for our lives. Yet, the farmer does not give up after one bad season. Instead hopes and trust that the next might be better.
Finally, farming teaches about the eventual reward. As one farmer once shared with me on the days when, “you are knee deep in manure, and you are working from sun up to sun down, there is one thing that keeps you going...harvest.” What a beautiful metaphor of the life of faith as well! The truth is the rewards of a faithful life will come.
I am grateful beyond measure (and I know you are too), for our farmers who make it possible for us to have good food on our tables which fuel our bodies and teach us life lessons that we can apply to our faith as well. In these coming days and months, I encourage you to say extra prayers for our farmers and express thanks to them for staying true to the work and covenant of farm life. May God watch over them, provide for them, and sustain them even on the rainy days and the facing of flooded fields.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister