My dad was an avid gardener. Actually, that’s a gross understatement – he was more like a rabid gardener. My dad lived to garden. His house was on a large double lot that was more garden than grass. He watched and cared for that garden so closely that he knew each and every plant on a first-name basis. In the early growing season, he would pace up and down those carefully planted rows, watching for the first signs of a sprout, and then nurturing and watching over every single one of them while they took root and became established. He loved to get down on his knees and pull out the weeds that threatened to choke his little babies. He loved the soil. Sometimes he would reach down and scoop up a handful of that rich, fertile soil, just to touch it, and feel it in his hand. He had some real struggles in life, and his garden was his sanctuary—a place where he found deep satisfaction while getting his hands dirty. I asked him once why he loved working in the garden so much, and he told me something truly profound: “There’s just something clean about working in the dirt.”
I thought of him last weekend, as I was transplanting three newly purchased rose bushes into a little planting area next to our garage. Sharon said that she always wanted rose bushes, and this was the perfect spot for them – if I could just plant them without killing them. The urge to work the soil wasn’t passed on to me genetically, and even basic lawn care (anything more than mowing) is a challenge for me. It would be an understatement to say that I have a “black thumb.” Bedding plants tremble in fear whenever I pass by.
I was preparing the soil and digging out the holes for our three flowering friends when my dad came to mind. I could see him in my mind’s eye, in his green Dickies, suspenders, and white t-shirt, wearing an old straw cowboy hat as he played in the dirt. As I gently lowered the first bush into the hole that would be its new home, and began filling in around it with my glove-covered hands (those thorns are sharp!), I suddenly had the urge to take off my gloves and get my fingers into the soil. Even I, agriculturally challenged plant-killer that I am, could sense the peace and fulfillment that my dad knew when his hands were in contact with the soil. What started as a chore to be endured became a joy to be savored, as I gently tamped the soil with my bare hands, and formed a little “dike” around each bush to help retain the fertilizer and water mixture that I was using to feed these bushes and help them adapt to their new world. As I felt that soil between my fingers, I felt what must have been the same joy that my dad found in tilling the land. I understood in a very practical and real sense what my dad meant when he spoke those words to me so many years before: “There’s something clean about working in the dirt.”
It’s not that “dirty is good.” It’s more of a down-to-earth, “grass roots” thing (pardon the puns). The scriptures tell us that God created man out of the dust of the earth, so maybe it’s more like a family reunion. It’s a good thing to occasionally set aside all our high-tech sophistication and return to the basic stuff that we’ve forgotten along the way. Sometimes, there’s satisfaction and energy to be found in those basics that just can’t be found anywhere else.
In our relationship with God, we sometimes find ourselves with the same sort of need. We can get so caught up in “doing” for the Lord that we lose touch with who we are in the Lord. Our spiritual identity becomes a subset of our spiritual activity, which results in a frenzy of activity with very little results.
At those times, we need to stop for a while and get back to the basics of the faith. We need to get down on our knees and work the soil around our spiritual roots, spending time one-on-one with our heavenly Father, not to sell Him our agenda, but just to be close to Him. Pull out the weeds of selfish ambition and overgrown ego, and mix in the fertilizer of the Word of God. Get back to the basic joy of knowing Jesus, and being in Him. Dig your fingers into that freshly cultivated dirt, and enjoy the sensation of it sifting through your fingers, as you renew your relationship with God.
You’ll rise from that place of renewal a changed person. There’s something clean about dirt.