“Harvesting our Failures”
It’s harvest season. I recently received a photo message from my friend’s family farm during their harvest in Indiana. Apple picking season is in full swing, pumpkins can be seen at roadside stands, and the “harvest festival” of Thanksgiving will be upon us before we know it.
I’m of the opinion that many of us who haven’t farmed lose out on some of the rich imagery and stories in the Old and New Testaments. So many of the stories draw on agricultural contexts and situations. Jesus tells us “I am the vine.” Paul calls the primary virtues Fruit in his letter to Galatians. Jesus tells parables about workers in the vineyard and mustard shrubs, and throughout the OT, Israel yearns for “a land flowing with milk and honey”—crucial agricultural crops of the Palestinian area.
A lot of these stories might grab our attention more if we understood the agricultural world that illumines Scripture. Growing, pruning, and yes, harvesting, are important practices for Christians. Not too long ago, I was reflecting on some errors about which I said, “I messed up and won’t do that again.” A wise friend encouraged me to not just say “I won’t do this again” but instead advised, “harvest your failures.“
When the farmer goes out to harvest, he is not just plowing over the corn and preparing the field for a future crop, but he is gathering the produce that will sustain the family through the winter, enable the maintenance of the tools and equipment, and supply the seeds for the next year’s planting.
Most of us are experts in description. We easily justify to ourselves why we needed to do whatever it was that we now look back on and wish we hadn’t done something. We talk of being frustrated because we don’t want to be angry. On more than one occasion I’ve tried to dismiss some error and said, “well hindsight’s 20/20.” We as both individuals and a congregation can look at our pasts and turn some of our experiences into produce, harvests, and fruit instead of just a file folder of what went wrong. We can harvest those failures and allow them to enable our future and sustain our present, just like the farmer. However, most of us don’t have the patience to actually harvest. Remember the scene in The Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner is plowing under his mature corn crop so that he can build the baseball field. I remember thinking to myself…couldn’t this wait until he harvested that corn to build the field? Often we are in too much of a hurry to move on from a painful or troubling experience to truly harvest it so that it helps us grow. It is much easier to just stuff it away somewhere and move on without really giving it much reflection.
This autumn as you pick apples, drive by a roadside stand of pumpkins, or celebrate the harvest—take the time to reflect on what kind of harvests you have neglected that might carry you through the next “winter” on your journey…and don’t forget to allow others to help you too. Every farmer knows that more hands will help the harvesting process.