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I love to garden. Frequently it works its way into my writing, from memories of working the soil with my dad, to the thrill of landscaping a new yard today.
But it’s hard to love it this time of year. At least, where I live, this is cleanup time. The vegetables are harvested, many flowers have stopped blooming, several plants are getting leggy and need trimming back. Though autumn is sweeping vivid color through the trees, the ground is covered with the spent joys of spring and summer.
So out we go with our gloves and pruners, to tend and to trim. We devote many of these cooler days to mulching and downsizing. We know the rewards will come months later when everything bursts into bloom again. If we neglect this time of year, winter will descend and we’ll have acres of regret in the spring.
Have you ever visited Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, Canada? It’s a Bucket List must, possibly the most dazzling garden in the world. It’s how we all want our yards to look. Well, we’d like at least a slice. And when it’s planting time, we all love the thrill of a colorful border, a bright bed of healthy plants beckoning to hummingbirds and butterflies. Few things are easier—or provide more immediate gratification– than buying some colorful annuals and plunking them into the ground.
And then a bit of time passes. Suddenly the blossoms fade a bit, and need to be dead-headed to allow for additional blooms. Weeds appear. Sprinklers fail and stalks start to wither. Gardens, we discover, require constant attention. And this assumes we’ve already amended our soil with the right nutrients, and made sure the required sunshine is correct.
What looked like fast window-dressing has turned into a year-round commitment. It’s exactly like missionary work. I think of the smiling elders and sisters I see in photos from around the world, standing in white clothing, ready to baptize a newly converted member. Sometimes they cannot baptize fast enough, as eager believers line up to join this marvelous restored gospel of Christ.
But, like planting a happy bed of flowers, it’s just the beginning. Now the local members must tend and nurture those converts, add nutrients, stave off pests, pull weeds, and provide water. If members turn their backs, just as with a neglected garden, plants can die back and disappear altogether. Frost comes, harsh winters can descend, and unless the garden is protected and the plants have secure roots, disaster can ensue.
Sometimes seeds are planted months before a tiny sprout emerges. Missionaries might teach and teach, unaware that one of those seeds will germinate after they leave. Not every missionary can be the one who greets the harvest. But how valuable are those seeds! Some of them can sprout, and if nourished and protected, the tender shoots can grow into strong, sturdy, reliable plants.
There is no unimportant part of the growing cycle. Each requires attention and effort, if plants are to thrive. And it is the same with baptisms. As important as a baptism is, it’s just going through the first gate. It’s the showiest of all the components of conversion, just as blooming flowers are the showiest signs of a gardener’s work. But what precedes it—and what follows it—is absolutely crucial.
A few weeks ago I wrote a Meridian Magazine article called Finders, Keepers which included a quote that bears repeating. President Gordon B. Hinckley said in his April Conference address of 1999, Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep: “There is absolutely no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two must be inseparable. These converts are precious. Every convert is a son or daughter of God. Every convert is a great and serious responsibility. It is an absolute imperative that we look after those who have become a part of us. To paraphrase the Savior, what shall it profit a missionary if he baptize the whole world unless those baptized remain in the Church? (see Mark 8:36).”
And what’s the point in planting a garden if you have no plans to water or tend it? Plants do not water themselves. They do not reach out and remove choking weeds. Without our help, they die. My father used to describe plant life this way: “Plants and weeds are in a constant battle for every inch of the earth’s soil. When man interferes with this war, you get gardens.”
And the analogy to Satan is clear. He is battling for each precious soul, especially targeting new members. When we interfere with this war, when we become soldiers in the fight to retain converts, we get gardens. We gain victory. We save souls. And I think of it every time I garden.