Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Gardens of Our Hearts

There are many times in scripture when you and I are compared in metaphor to the trees of an orchard or the grain of the field. One such occasion is in the third chapter of Matthew when John the Baptist preaches in the wilderness of Judea. John's growing popularity had become a concern for the ruling classes who had gained power and wealth by subjecting the people to often ridiculous additional rules and regulations cloaked as inspired additions to the Law of Moses.

Speaking to these ruling classes, but also to all of us, John declared: "If ye receive not [the preaching of him whom God hath sent] in your hearts, ye receive not me; and if ye receive not me, ye receive not him of whom I am sent to bear record; and for your sins ye have no cloak. Repent, therefore, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance" (JST Matthew 3:34-36).

Like a tree or a staff of grain, each of us bears the fruit of our labor. Worthy actions and desires are equivalent to good fruit in the metaphor. John reminds us that true repentance includes receiving God's word in our hearts and then changing our actions so that we may again be worthy of the Lord's harvest. Lest we think we can repent half-heartedly or offer impure fruits to the Lord, John reminds his listeners that "the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10).

A lot can be and has been said about how we can change our actions, but John's repentance flowchart dictates that we focus first on planting the right seeds in good ground or, in other words, cultivating righteous desires in our pure, receptive hearts. This is also the focus of another agrarian metaphor, the Parable of the Sower, which Christ shared with an audience similar to John's. In the parable, which could also be called the Parable of the Soils, a sower goes out to plant seed in his field. Some of the seed falls into the road, some onto rocks, some into patches of weeds and some onto good ground where it can grow strong and bear fruit.

Two of the soils in this parable-- the rock and the road-- are hard and impenetrable. People with similarly hardened hearts may appear do everything right on the surface, but ultimately are unable to produce good fruit because they lack the depth of conviction and the ongoing spiritual nourishment to support their testimonies through tough questions or a difficult season in life.

Likewise, if we plant desires in our hearts that are not consistent with the word of God, even if they seem to be good at the time, we may find one day that the fruit we hoped to grow has been suffocated by other plants. The Savior taught that "where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also" (Matthew 6:21). We cannot plant our fields with corn and then be surprised when there's no wheat to harvest.

Elder Ardern recently reminded us that planting the right seeds in our hearts requires our attention and intention. "With the demands made of us," he said, "we must learn to prioritize our choices to match our goals or risk being exposed to the winds of procrastination and being blown from one time-wasting activity to another" (A Time to Prepare, October 2011). If we truly desire the things of God, we may find it necessary to do a little weeding from time to time to keep our growth on track.

Finally, the prophet Alma expounded how to plant the right desires in our softened hearts. "If ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart," he taught, "behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves-- It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me" (Alma 32:28).

He continues, "If ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst" (Alma 32:41-42).

In the words of Elder Oaks, our "desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming" (Desire, April 2011). The desires we plant in our hearts determine the fruit we will eat now and in eternity.

Each of us has many desires competing for our attention each day. Some, such as desires to meet physical needs, may be strong without much effort from us. Others depend more heavily on our nurturing. In all cases, the desires we consider most important are most likely to be transferred into action. This includes overriding compelling physical desires to go camping, to fast or to work through the night; or allowing unrighteous desires to overcome our want of health, honesty or virtue.

Of course, ultimately we decide what desires are allowed to take root in our hearts; but the Lord has promised that we will yield the fruits of what we plant. "A just God," Alma taught, "granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life" (Alma 29:4).

From the farmer's point of view it may seem obvious that planting the right seeds in good ground is essential to yielding a profitable crop, but very few inherit such conditions. What do we do when we find patches of rocky or weed-filled ground in our garden? How can a person change what they treasure or have already planted in order to eventually harvest that field of wheat or orchard of delicious fruit?

Around the turn of the 20th Century, Robert Butchart moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island, Canada. He was among the first to develop and sell cement that could be packaged in sacks rather than barrels and Vancouver Island's rich limestone deposits were an integral part of his formula. He constructed his first quarry and cement plant in 1904 and would soon become a primary supplier of cement to rapidly developing cities from San Francisco to Seattle.

Robert's wife, Jennie, was the company's chemist. She was also a homemaker who cared very much for the sweet peas and roses planted at her family home near the quarry. As the limestone deposits were exhausted, Jennie determined to create something of beauty from the enormous pit that mining had left behind. She had tons of topsoil carted in to line the bottom of the abandoned quarry. Then she began to plant.

Jennie Butchart planted terraced flowers, white poplars and Persian plums. As more deposits were exhausted, she planted a Japanese garden and ivy that climbed up the quarry walls. She planted Tibetan blue poppies, California Redwoods, a private garden, a rose garden and two Italian gardens. Robert collected ornamental birds for the gardens and began assigning cement plant staff to help with weeding and maintenance. Little by little the garden grew and with growth came notoriety.

Today, Butchart Gardens is one of the five most renowned gardens in the world. 550 staff care for the 55-acre garden that receives more than a million visitors annually from around the world. Tourists come to tour the gardens, to take in an outdoor symphony concert or fireworks show, to ride the carousel with their kids and to enjoy the wonderful and awe-inspiring natural scenes unique to Butchart Gardens.

We may feel at times like our hearts, in whole or in part, are as hard and empty as an exhausted mining quarry. It may seem impossible to grow anything good or that all or part of us is just destined to be an empty limestone pit. While these feelings may be very real for us and even duly justified, they are tragically limited in their scope. We too often see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today; but our Heavenly Father, Elder Wirthlin has taught, sees us in terms of forever. Like Jennie Butchart, He looks at the empty hole in our hearts, sees the majestic gardens we can grow and then makes it possible for us to start planting.

Inevitably, we will all have to lay down some new soil from time to time. We do this as we decide we want to want to. In Alma's words, "behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words" (Alma 32:27). We break apart the stony ground and prepare it for planting as we set aside our cynicism in order to hear and feel the testimonies of the faithful.

The scriptures speak about this change in terms of what we seek. "When people [in the scriptures] are described as 'having lost their desire for sin,'" Elder Oaks has taught, "it is they, and they only, who deliberately decided to lose those wrong desires by being willing to 'give away all [their] sins' in order to know God." The Lord has taught that we should seek earnestly the best gifts (D&C 46:8) and that we will find what we diligently seek (1 Nephi 10:19) and consistently pursue.

When we have prepared our hearts and aroused our faculties to live the teaching of the gospel the best we can, our desires will sprout and begin to grow. We will begin to see how paying tithing, serving others and living the commandments beautifies our lives. We will defend time dedicated to studying the scriptures, serving others and building family relationships against even the most appealing intrusions and continue to nourish righteous desires through our faith and persistent effort.

"What we insistently desire over time is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity," Elder Maxwell has taught. "Only by educating and training our desires can they become our allies instead of our enemies" (According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts, October 1996). Every day the world will try to influence our desires to buy something, click on something, play something, read or watch something. We must consistently seek to refine, purify and elevate our desires; to train them to be wheat instead of turning to corn.

As we plant more of the word of God in our hearts, we will be increasingly able to see what the completed garden will look like. The vision of what we can become will increase our desire and power to act enormously. Like Jennie Butchart, we will want to plant more gardens and to share what we have found with others. The transformation in our hearts will be as if we had been born again.

Along the way, we will learn a simple formula that will help us receive the blessings we seek from the Lord. The formula is recorded by Enos, among many others, who prayed "with many long strugglings" for his cousins, the Lamanites, "and labored with all diligence" to that end. The Lord recognized Enos' desires and efforts. "I will grant unto thee according to thy desires," the Lord responded to Enos' prayers, "because of thy faith" (Enos 1:11-12).

It is by grace we are saved after all we can do; and it is the faithful combination of our righteous desires and diligent efforts that will yield the blessings of the Lord, including the fruits of repentance, peace and prosperity that will enrich our lives on earth and forever after. "Let us remember," Elder Oaks taught, "that desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. In addition, it is our actions and our desires that cause us to become something, whether a true friend, a gifted teacher, or one who is qualified for eternal life."

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