Wilted Tomatoes

2 10 2013

Twice in 2 days I was encouraged to share with others the places I am having trouble, not making progress, weak, failing. As I contemplated my shortcomings, my eyes were drawn to my wilting tomato plants…
The first encouragement to “let it all hang out” was in the context of a class offered by my church. (Let them, of all people, see the “real me”?!) My friend David, a fellow member, told us that he believes the mistaken ways we think about suffering and about sin may diminish or even cut off our ability to live with the Spirit, in joy and contentment and health. When we think wrongly about suffering–ours or others’–and about our own wrongdoings–aka sin, we can feel rejected, unforgivable, oppressed, maybe unfairly treated. God, or this world, has let me down; that suffering is undeserved, or deserved; I’m a failure and a bad person.
David gave Biblical examples of people who suffered. One was a man born blind. Jesus’ explanation was, not that anyone deserved it but that he suffered “for the purpose of glory”. Jesus then healed the man, miraculously. I imagine great joy ensued. Suffering may spur us on to positive changes. (Heart attack-change in diet and exercise.) It can bring help to an individual. (A hug in the midst of sadness.) The point is, if we judge suffering as always bad or harmful or well-deserved even–especially for ourselves, we may miss an opportunity for growth or healing or helping, or dare I say it, JOY!
Perhaps even more influential in our lives is our perspective on our own wrongdoing or sin. We ALWAYS mess up! We all make mistakes, we all rebel. We all do the wrong thing, neglect to do the right thing. And OH, do we not want others to see this!! “It’s bad.” “I’m bad.” If others knew they’d:  be shocked.  not like me.  kick me out of the group.  unfriend me on Facebook.  tell everyone on Facebook. So not only are we left with that splotch on who we feel we are, but we want to cover it up and make sure nobody sees our weakness, bad attitude, complacency, apathy or rebellion, you name it.
David observed that in the Old Testament tradition there were many ways that “unclean” or “unrighteous” persons in society were separated from the righteous. BUT Jesus did not treat the “sinners” as pariahs–he welcomed them. Hung out with them. Partied with them. (In fact, he preferred their company to the rabbis he taught with in the synagogue, who were in their minds, and appeared to others, “righteous.”) He loved and accepted “sinners” as they were, not after they’d cleaned up their act. And oh, the surprisingly difficult challenge is to see OURSELVES that way–loved, accepted, acceptable, worthy of friendship and respect just as we are right now. Can we love and accept this messed up “bad” person we see in the mirror, jettison that label “bad”, replacing it with simply “person,” or even a more positive self-label “beloved person”? Can we relax about our shortcomings and be gentle with ourselves? Wow. How can something so simple be so hard? That was a lot to chew on from one brief presentation!
But that wasn’t all. The next day, at a strategic planning workshop I attended, members of the organization were learning how best to report and communicate to others our progress toward our goals. It was pointed out that when we share the places we are stuck or thwarted (self-message: failing?) in what we were trying to do that we would be able to access help or expertise from the others in removing the hindrances that might be in our way. There may be someone who can help with a particular task in the project; or perhaps something totally outside our own control is holding up progress. With the help of others, the presenter said, perhaps the problem can be resolved. After all, we are all working toward the same goals!
To share our shortcomings, in a church, friendship, or work setting would involve risking all those judging attitudes I just mentioned (that we already may have about ourselves). Wouldn’t the reassurance of an attitude of love, unity and acceptance around the table be an encouragement to do just that–share the weakness and the struggle, then be encouraged, treated with compassion, receive the help we need to move forward? Can we risk appearing, well, wilted?
The tomato plants I’m growing in tubs in the parking lot (literally!) wilt every hot day. They look terrible! (Especially the scrawnier one). One plant never gets shade all afternoon, while the other briefly gets a bit from a nearby tree. When I don’t notice any wilting, I assume they are doing well and have enough water. But when they wilt, I’m out there ASAP with 2 gallons of water apiece, and within an hour or two they are no longer drooping, with leaves uplifted and stems strengthened, spread full with circulating nutrients.
[Now, a more knowledgeable, consistent, dedicated gardener might keep the tomato plants tended and watered before they wilt–but that gardener isn’t around here just now.] Thank God my tomato plants wilt! As I see autumn leaves begin to show their colors, I recall being told the more stressed trees turn color first. Perhaps it is to be noticed and tended first, or rest the longest through the winter?
In the animal world, I think showing vulnerability is not universal. On the other hand, a puppy with a sore paw cries and its mother licks it to clean and heal it; an eagle stays close to its wounded mate to protect and defend it.
Is somebody seeing you wilt? Are you ashamed or embarrassed? Or can you be gentle with yourself and see the wiltedness as a place of normalcy and an opportunity to be protected, watered, fed or cared for? By the way, the tomatoes are abundant and delicious!