For a long time now, I've been embarrassed to tell people what I studied in my post-high school days.
It's not because it's shameful or inappropriate. It's not even because it's an Associate's Degree and I always thought I'd end up with at least a Bachelor's (funny how life does not go as you plan).
My degree is in Horticulture (a fancy word for the study of all things plants) and specifically, Landscape Design.
Why does this embarrass me, you ask?
Because we have anything but what you would think a Landscape Designer's yard would look like. Between a lack of funds, a plethora of small children and various other factors, our home's "curb appeal" has not exactly been on the top of our family's priority list.
I've even had people remark (after telling them what I studied after high school and in what field I worked in for the first 10 years of my "career"), "Oh wow, I bet your yard is beautiful!" And don't get me wrong: in it's own way, it is. We have a fence, which manages to keep the kids and dog in and unwanted kids and dogs out. We live in a nice little neighborhood with mature trees and sidewalks lining the roads. There are gardens, some with beautiful peonies and an incredible bed of Lily of the Valley, one of my all-time favorite flowers.
But our grass is patchy (to say the least), the severely overgrown yew shrubs in the front of our house threaten to overtake the first floor windows each spring (I have nightmares about those beasts) and the only "patio" we have is a 10' diameter concrete circle which has no rhyme or reason when it comes to placement or purpose.
So I am embarrassed. I've often looked at those overgrown plants and suffering lawn and thought, "Sheesh. I bet a stranger wouldn't even believe me when I said I had a background in Landscape Design and once had my own gardening blog."
But as I was tackling the arduous task of trimming those yews back the other day, I began to think about it: Why do I care so much if someone could tell I was skilled in landscape layout and had a decent knowledge of shrubs and perennials just by looking at our property? Sure, there is something to be said for maintaining your yard and taking care of the space God has blessed us with. But does my core identity really depend that much on what degree I've earned or knowledge I posses or life milestones I've reached?
And if I care so much whether or not people can tell I am a Horticulturalist just from looking at our yard, shouldn't I care even more if they can tell whether or not I am a Christian just by looking at my actions?
While we know and understand that our salvation does not depend on anything we do or do not do ("For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9), the Bible is quite clear about faith without works. In His word, God tells us that "faith without works is dead." (Take a moment to read James chapter 2 for the full context.) Just as an unkempt property is evidence that a homeowner may not have yard work on the top of his or her priority list (for one reason or another), so an "unkempt life" can also be a window into a person's heart and faith life.
"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?...In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." ~James 2:14, 17
If I spend my days at work complaining about my co-workers or my days at home grumbling about the kids, my husband and the never-ending housework, am I really living a life in which my faith is evident? When I go to the grocery store, do I patiently wait for the person who just happens to be lingering in front of the exact same item I need or do I make it clear that I'm frustrated as I push past them? When I'm checking out in the lane at Target and the cashier is less-than-pleasant, do I still share a smile and wish her a good day despite her attitude or do I give it right back to her as a "taste of her own medicine"? When a friend disappoints me by showing up late, cancelling plans or failing to return a phone call in what I have considered a reasonable time frame, do I offer her grace and understanding or do I hold it against her and carry it with me into our next conversation?
Am I continually working on "trimming" back those branches which want to overshadow my faith? Am I daily asking God for His help in this? Am I doing all I can to put the Word of God in the front of my mind throughout the day so that my actions reflect what I believe?
It is true that we are all sinful human beings, incapable of saving ourselves or living free from sin's clutches ("For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23). We fail and will continue to fail on a daily basis in living a life in which our faith is completely evident. Therefore, our heavenly Father is the only one who can truly see a person's heart and faith -- this is not our place to judge. But aren't we supposed to be a light to the world? Shouldn't we be more concerned about the world knowing that we are a Christian rather than knowing what we've accomplished or earned here on earth?
I'm going to continue to tend to our yard as time and pennies permit -- for it is something that brings me happiness and satisfaction. And one day, I do still hope that a passer-by would actually believe that I now a thing or two about plants. But, through the help of God, my bigger concern and much more important focus will be on shining the light of Christ into a dark world and proclaiming to that world that I follow Him, and Him only.
"We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light." Colossians 1:9b-12