Your One Wild and Precious Life

There’s a man who lives in a small house near me, and I can see his backyard from a path I walk most days when the weather’s nice enough. Last summer I watched him cultivate a vegetable garden, starting with tiny green shoots in neat rows that grew to abundance in a few weeks’ time. He was quite the skilled gardener; he knew where to plant the tall leafy plants so they’d have room to spread out without blocking the sun from the ones that grew closer to the ground. He shored up the tomato plants when they started to droop, kept the weeds out, and watered everything regularly throughout the hot summer.

His four little children joined him most days, digging, planting and watering alongside him, but mostly laughing and playing on the swings he’d made and hung from tree branches nearby. At the end of the season, the crop he yielded was impressive: tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, squash, carrots and more. No doubt his family enjoyed the fruit of his labor, and probably shared some with friends and neighbors. But I think the greater reward was the time they spent together. The kids learned about gardening but mostly I think they just loved being outside with their daddy. And he was clearly delighted having them play and help. The garden wasn’t just work; it was a joy for all of them.

I saw a metaphor in this scenario. We are this father, day after day, planting, watering, working our own gardens with the talents and tools we’re given, not out of drudgery, but for the joy of doing things we care about with people we love. Tending this garden well requires nothing less than our full selves—brain, heart, body—poured out into the life and loves that are ours. But the rewards—the joy, the deep joy—are worth the toil.

It was all right here in this little garden. The simple, profound, beautiful question asked of us by Parable of the Talents, which poet Mary Oliver poses in this way: What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

-excerpted from my upcoming book, Sowing Seeds Of Love releasing Fall 2014.