This summer so far has produced very little rain, causing lots of dry fields and lawns. I remember a fall harvest season a couple years ago that was exceptionally wet. Reflecting on this, I have been thinking much about farmers. Each spring, they invest in seeds, fertilizer and time preparing fields and planting. Then they have to step back, relinquish control and have trust in God. The reality is that they have no control over the circumstances that determine whether the harvest is successful. The farmer with the biggest tractor cannot make it rain. Or the one who is milking the most cows.
Farmers are entrusted to care for God’s creation – land and animals. It is their responsibility to think beyond this year, preserving the health of land for the future. They need to look beyond a day, week or any given season. Much has been said about available employment lately and people’s desire to work, but a farmer does not have the option. They cannot sit idle, and they cannot give two week’s notice and walk away. There is investment in land and machinery that is considerable, and their cows need time, attention and care on a schedule that most people could not imagine (4 a.m. every day!). There is a commitment to see it through and, often times, a family history to carry on.
On top of that, it is not easy. It is dirty and difficult and many people would never consider doing the work it takes. It takes special people to do this work, especially without guarantees. People who entirely hand it over to God.
This past weekend’s gospel reading was the parable of the mustard seed, which is the “smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants” (Mark 4:31-32). A farmer starts with bags of seeds and empty fields, just after cold, often harsh, winters which test them, their equipment and animals. The second reading last weekend told us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Looking out on the fields right now causes anxiety and fear. But a farmer gets up and works by faith that God will provide. And, if the year is bad, they remain faithful, trusting the next year will certainly be better – always believing, always handing it over to God.
I grew up on a dairy farm and now I work part-time milking cows on a farm. Many of my role models in terms of faith and trusting God are farmers. Their steadfast faithfulness to the vocation, and closeness to the work of God, makes them special. Farmers, I believe, are called to their vocation.
Proverbs 13:12 tells us “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Trust is a difficult thing and has been a struggle for me lately. I have lost trust in people because of rejection, disappointment and outright lack of truthfulness. But, I look to my farmer friends as models to never lose trust in God. That trust is most important. As Saint Teresa said, “In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” I remain steadfast knowing God sees my heart and can see through the noise here on earth.
Father Jim Chern, in his homily this weekend, talked about everyday ordinary miracles that take place like the ones Jesus describes in the parables about planting and growing. He says “we might not appreciate how miraculous the act of planting, of growing truly is. But think about that mystery: that a seed and some dirt can result in flowers, plants, vegetables and fruits.” The initial growth is hidden and mysterious, happening underground, and you must wait for the crop to break out of the ground. I used to do a lot of gardening and I was always anxious during those days of waiting. The farmers I know never seem to doubt; they trust. Father Chern also said “every seed, every growth are ultimately a part of God’s providence…God will take care of the growing – but He needs us to take that risk to plant…” (Father Jim Chern). If you are struggling like me, let’s remember to keep planting and placing our trust in him. Maybe we need to try different ground, like the parable of the sower.
To our farmers, we will pray for your safety and for your harvest. In our prayers we will thank God for your work and how you model trusting in God.