I grew up on a small 160 acre farm near Pella, Iowa and it was a very different life than living here in the city. It was a life lived with a deep understanding of the natural world and of God and our dependence on him. Farmers are quite attuned to the world around them. They read the skies and recognize the different kinds of clouds and what weather they might bring. They observe when a cow is sick or which field of soybeans is lagging behind the others. They notice when a sow is about to deliver or a horse is experiencing labored breathing or the change in the direction the wind might be blowing and what that might mean. Farmers livelihoods depend on watching and waiting. Should I plant seeds now or wait a week? Should I call the veterinarian about the newborn calf or will it be okay? What happens if the corn doesn’t tassel out in the next week or two? In all of their observations of the world around them they see God’s hand close up. They, more than most of us, I think, realize their abject dependence on the grace of God. The God who sends rain at the proper time and causes the sun to shine and the seed to peek through the soil and the plant to grow and produce its fruit that ripens and provides sustenance for us all.
It is important for the farmer to work. When I was a teenager I was taught to stack a rack of hay bales and sort hogs for market and milk cows and ‘walk the beans’ which meant pulling prickly, stinky Jimson weeds from among the bean plants. It was hard work and I was always physically exhausted at the end of the day. Working the fields meant plowing and harrowing and planting and cultivating and reaping. The soil was fertilized and well tended in order to maximize the yield from each acre. One could, of course, do all those things and still not see a crop. If God failed to send the rain or the sunshine at the proper time, the fields would not produce and the family would have a lean year.
Dependency is hard for many of us. We don’t like the feeling of having to depend on others in order to live. Self sufficiency is a matter of pride. We often look down on those unable to provide for themselves, thinking ourselves better than them. Some of us horde things and hold them tightly so we can avoid ever being ‘needy’. Trusting God is nice in theory and hard in practice. We sinfully want to control our world and to blame God when things don’t work out according to our plan. Trusting God is always hard, but we either trust him or we don’t. There is no middle ground.
December is Fallow Month at the Village. Being ‘fallow’ is an odd concept. It is a concept tied to Sabbath. Each week we are given a Sabbath by God. It is a day of rest from our labor and a day to enjoy the goodness of God. Scripture tells us that God rested from his creation endeavors on the seventh day. God calls the Israelites to forgive debts every seven years and to celebrate a year of Jubilee ever 50th years (seven sevens) by making things new, freeing slaves, forgiving debts, and restoring what was taken. Every seven years the people were asked to let their fields lay fallow. They weren’t permitted to plow or plant or work in their fields. They were to allow the land to rest, to take a Sabbath. In doing this, the Israelites had to trust God’s provision. They had to depend on God and on their neighbors for help. They got to experience God’s presence, care, and generosity in the richest of ways. But it was high risk…
In initiating Fallow Month we chose December because it is a busy time. We chose to shut things down. No Pilgrim groups. No programs. No regularly scheduled meetings. We chose to rest as a community. We invite you to rest in the goodness of God. To enjoy his presence. To spend time with family and friends. To read Scripture and pray and worship. To embrace the joy of the season. To relax and take naps. To hang out and go to parties. Or, for those of us for whom parties sound like hell, to curl up in the corner and read a good book. To rest from the insanity of our lives.
When a farmer lets their field lie fallow they make a declaration of the goodness of God. They declare by their actions rather than just their words that they truly trust God. They rest from their labor. Our challenge to you is to take time throughout the month to take delight in the God who provides. Hang out with him. Spend time chatting with him. Lay down the things you think you have to do and let him care for you. Let his goodness wash over you and relinquish your demands to control. Rest from your labor. He loves you. Enjoy that.