Cultivating a Soul: What Farming Can Teach You About Personal Growth

Yesterday morning, when the baby started crying, my 8 year old daughter ran out of bed to get him so that my husband and I could sleep a little longer. After nearly a decade of constant exhaustion spread over the rearing of four children, getting those extra 15 minutes of rest was divine. It wasn’t the sleep itself that meant so much, but rather, where it came from. See, my 8 year old daughter used to be the infant who never napped and spent most of every night screaming.

As I thought about how the child who stole our sleep had become the child who guarded our sleep, the verse from tehillim (psalms) echoed in my head. “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” My husband and I had worked so hard for so long, and suddenly we were beginning to see the fruits of our labor.

Although I dislike dirt, unnecessary physical exertion, and being  in the middle of nowhere for more than a few hours at a time (or, let’s be honest, at all), it occurred to me that farming is probably chock full of life lessons. The ancient Israelites were an agricultural people, I think in part because there are truths that one can uncover within the dirt. This city girl can barely keep a silk plant alive, yet if I had the chance to till the land, I’m certain it would lead to many discoveries about my own growth.

Discoveries like patience. Farming requires hard work, but only yields results after much waiting. In the world we live, no one wants to wait for anything anymore, but spiritual development requires patience, as it simply can’t be sped up. Also, successful farming isn’t just about the effort that the farmer puts in, it’s equally about the forces he can’t control. And so the Jewish way of farming is toil the earth and then beseech the Heavens for rain in its proper time (as we are praying right now, during the rainy season in Israel). So too, with personal growth, we must put in our best efforts to develop and change, but praying for help from Above is a necessary part of the equation. Farming would teach me to put in my best efforts, put in my best prayers, and then wait for the results.

Finally, farming isn’t something that’s faked. Sure, genetic engineering and hydroponics exist, but for the most part, crops come forth from the ground today just as they always have – only after there’s been plowing, sowing, watering, harvesting, all in the right seasons. Too many things are faked nowadays in the rest of the world. Singers are faked with autotunes. Models are faked with photoshop. Even photographers are faked with editing software programs like Instragram. No one wants to go through a process anymore. Everyone’s looking for short cuts.

But spiritual development can never be cut short. It must be labored over, prayed for, and given time. And then, one day, something as sublime as sleeping in on a Sunday morning will emerge.

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  • Avatar photo Fashion-isha says on December 14, 2011

    Love it!!

  • Avatar photo Devora says on December 14, 2011

    This is a lovely article & a great lesson to be learned. You should be very grateful to have been gifted with such a thoughtful child who guards your sleep. That is truly a blessing. May I have the merit to have a daughter and one who is so thoughtful & kind. I do however wonder about the quote you mentioned.”Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” I have toiled & cried for many years, I have yet to see a husband & a family. Perhaps Hashem lost my address when I moved to Brklyn? The same is happening with my livelihood. I am happy to admit that its been a little easier this year than the last 4 but I still sow in tears & unfortunately have seen little joy in what I reap. I am still in survival mode every month & barely stay ahead of the bills. I also see many ppl whop toil in raising children but have not produced such kind & thoughtful children as you speak of here. Does this quote only apply to some ppl & not to all?

    • Avatar photo Allison says on December 15, 2011

      This is a great question, Devora. I’m so sorry for the pain that you’re going through. I was careful to talk about how farming is an analogy to spiritual growth and personal growth, because as you picked up, when it comes to things in life outside of our control, we don’t always see the fruits of our labor directly. That’s not to say that “those who sow in tears will reap in joy” does not apply to the next world – we certainly believe it does. It’s just that, unfortunately, not all of the blessing we receive is the obvious, revealed kind. Sometimes we put in a ton of effort and tears and we don’t see clear results in the *this world* sense. I actually wrote a post about how to understand effort that seemingly goes nowhere. Please have a look at http://www.jewinthecity.com/2007/11/when-the-can-opener-of-life-seems-to-be-going-nowhere-fast/

  • Avatar photo Melanie says on December 16, 2011

    Wonderful analogy and posting! I sometimes feel like a crop that has been picked too early (my kids get up WAY too early!). Hopefully, I will also be blessed with children who “let me ripen more”…


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