Harvest time has a way of turning my thoughts toward all the prayers that have been sown many times, over many years. So many people, with their own patch, have over many seasons of prayer, planted and tended their prayers to bear fruit. Over time, as the focus of my prayer has changed, the garden where those seeds have been sown has changed too. There have always been the usual staples for well-being, safety, direction, family and friends etc. but there have been specialty prayers too. Along with so many other people at present, I have been sowing prayers for peace for many places in this world. These prayers are easy to sow but the seeds are difficult to cultivate to fruition. In these times I have no trouble wondering if my prayers are seeds that are simply tossed to the wind and I find I need to remind myself of the fruit that has come from past prayer as an encouragement to continue to pray. It helps to reflect on what past harvests looked like and imagine what shape it will take this time. So when I hear of peace delegations and ceasefires, I understand them as the first signs. They are green shoots springing forth.
The Fruit of Prayer: As a youngster, I enjoyed picking strawberries at ‘U-Pick’ farms. It was fun to eat just as many strawberries off the vine as I picked to take home. It was pure joy to have the ripe fruit falling into my hands. This wasn’t work. It was play. My grandparents had a number of apple trees and plum trees. I loved to climb these to pick and eat the fruit. Again, the apples and plums were so ripe they just fell off. The fruit of the earth was there for the taking without any real effort on my part at all. It was the fruit of the labour of others who I had not seen at their work.
The first year my parents kept a vegetable garden was another matter. I was expected to spend time helping with the planting, weeding, and tending the young plants. More than once my complaints about unfair labour practices were answered with ‘Eating from the garden means helping with the work’. The work was hard and tedious. The growth that first year was slow. I thought nothing would ripen. Now, many years later, I realize I did not enjoy the garden that first year because I had never experienced the process of working a garden over a season of digging and preparing, sowing and planting, tending and harvesting.
Joy does not come at harvest time alone. Joy is in the labour, watching for, and recognizing the small signs of growth. Joy is in the anticipation of the results and working alongside others sharing the work so that we might share the harvest together. Our family shared our joy and the fruit of the garden with our neighbours, (even though they had not helped with the weeding!) Those who have sown seeds and laboured in a garden know what to expect so that when the harvest is finally in, the joy spills over to everyone around.
To pray, is to sow seeds, to plant and to cultivate. So, with the work done, will there be fruit or anything worth harvesting? Prayer is not wishful thinking, seeking answers that simply fall into our hands like the fruit of the ‘U-pick’ farm. As I pray I watch for the signs of growth. Though my prayer may be for extremely delicate matters, there is joy in the labour. Those who have laboured in the prayer garden know it will take time and we know there will be fruit. Even in the dry times when we have only our tears to water our prayers, we labour on.
As I grow in my experience of tending to prayer it has become more clear about how to take on the challenges of the complicated varieties of seeds that must be sown through prayer. So as I reflect on the fruits of my prayers over the years, I am reminded of the joy that a constancy of prayer has brought about. What will the harvest be for peace and all the other delicate matters that need to be in our prayer gardens? Whatever the fruit, I pray that it may simply fall into the hands of children to bring them the joy of peace. They too, in their turn, will learn to sow and pray.