Naming the fear of failure and pushing through

By Anna Moseley Gissing

I wasn’t excited about reflecting on the parable of the soils (or sower) again. I’ve been exhorted to consider whether my heart was “good” soil numerous times. So when I was asked to reflect on Matthew 13:1-9 on a recent spiritual retreat, I didn’t expect to learn anything new. But after a few familiar questions, I came upon this one:

What does it feel like to be the farmer?

Without thinking, I scribbled:

Annoying. Frustrating. Hard to figure out. Wish I could only throw seed in the good soil.

Where did this come from? There is no indication in the text that the farmer was upset or begrudging of the soil. The passage ends with the joyful news that some seed led to remarkable fruitfulness and growth — even a hundredfold!

Yet, as I thought about the farmer, I realized the end result would not have been my focus. I’d have been annoyed that I had wasted that other seed — the seed that the birds ate, the sun scorched, and the thorns choked. What about that seed? How could I have avoided that loss? The wasted seed weighed heavy on my heart.

And I realized that describes my own resistance to risk. Afraid that all of the seed sown won’t be fruitful, I hold onto the seed. I won’t waste it if I don’t throw it on the path or in the rocky or thorny soil. Yet, I also don’t throw it in the good soil. I don’t throw it at all. But what good is it to hang onto the seed and never sow it? At harvest time, I will have nothing. No fruit to show because there was no labor; no joy at the growth.

Did the farmer feel annoyed that he couldn’t figure out just where to sow the seed so that it would always land in good soil? Was he frustrated that some of it was eaten by the birds? I’d like to think that he recognized that it was worth it to sow generously, knowing that the seed growing in the good soil would make up for what was lost to the thorns, the sun, and the birds.

It is worth it to sow. I can’t hang onto seed just because letting go means that some will be choked by weeds. I’ve developed elaborate systems to determine exactly how best to throw the seed so as to maximize growth and minimize waste. But consider what I have lost in developing that system. Over how many harvest seasons have I been developing my efficient system instead of throwing seed?

We cannot avoid loss, waste, or failure. But we can avoid the joy that comes from seeing growth. We can avoid seeing the fruit of our labor. Is that what we want?

Read the rest of the post at The Well.