Reflections of an Amateur Gardener from the Prayer Garden

Keith KettenringChristian Living, Homestead Hospitality House, The Uncommon Journey

As most of you know, I am developing a new Prayer Garden for Homestead House. For me, because I love flower gardens so much, this is a dream come true. However, putting in a new garden is more work than I imagined. Maybe that’s why few people attempt such a thing. Yet, it’s a work that is teaching me much about God, people, nature, and my self. Work does that, I suppose. A new project tests abilities and motivations deep within. So, please allow me to get a little reflective on the garden project to this point.

We are developing a formal garden in a place on our property that used to be a raised bed/fountain/pond along the side of the house. In reality, we are building an outdoor room – an addition to the house – providing another place for people to commune with God. Here are some “lessons” I’m learning in the process.

  1. Being mostly clay, the soil is extremely hard to work with. The clay is easily compacted creating an almost concrete-like structure that apparently holds essential nutrients well but is also difficult to dig and plant in. “Clay soil is defined as soil that is comprised of very fine mineral particles and not much organic material. The resulting soil is quite sticky since there is not much space between the mineral particles, and it does not drain well at all.” (from  However, this soil is not as hard as the soil within me. My heart is stubborn to what God is trying to grow in me. My soul needs amending. His mercy and grace need to work on me tilling the hardness with cutting blades that joyfully wound me so that the ground is well-prepared to receive spiritual virtues. Without healthy soil, the Sower’s seeds never penetrate and grow but die on the hard surface of my prideful willfulness and unrepentant self-righteousness.
  2. Persistent and consistent efforts are demanded. Needless to say, this garden is not going to develop on its own. When the vision of this garden first took hold of me, I was foolish to think that it could happen in a few weekends. Actually, it’s going to take months. And, when it comes to plants and weeds, the development of this garden will never end. This is similar to our spiritual life. The process of becoming more like Jesus is a long persistent one. We might be fooled into thinking there’s some magic formula to a deepening relationship with God. But, considering all that must be done inwardly – purification and illumination of the heart – we realize the slow working of God. Our role is to remain tenaciously faithful to the spiritual work necessary as we participate in God’s work within.
  3. Among the beauty of the garden, weeds flourish. I have yet to figure out an effortless way to deal with weeds. It’s just plain hard work to get weeds out of a garden. Yet, I’m learning to identify weeds more readily and am trying to be vigilant about removing them. However, it can be overwhelmingly time-consuming. Hence, the need to use weed-pulling as a time for prayerful communion with God. Weeds also remind me of sin that so easily flourishes in the midst of the beauty of Christ’s presence within. I’ll never get rid of all the weeds. Yet, the weeds do not prevent beauty from happening. The beauty is there. One of my “jobs” is to identify the weeds and remove them – sounds like acknowledgment, repentance, confession, and forgiveness. When breaking new ground for a garden (as we are here) the weeding is even more demanding.
  4. The garden is made possible by the efforts of many people. Though I’m doing much of the manual labor, this is a community garden. I’ve been deeply touched by those who have responded to the call for help in making the prayer garden happen. This project is now supported by friends – casual, long-time, and close, and those acquainted with our hospitality ministry. We even have had a family come up from Atlanta to give themselves to the garden. Our son has contributed hard labor. Others are scheduled to come. The financial support has been amazing. People really do want to help. It’s heart-warming to be a part of this kind of community effort.
  5. The work of prayer is already happening as the garden is being “built.” I envision a prayer garden where someone can walk, sit, read, write or nap among appealing plants and flowers. Here, God’s presence is experienced in the beauty of creation. Yet, that sense of being with God is already being experienced as I walk the barren ground and kneel to insert pavers into the pathways. Each paver is chosen to fit the color pattern and then gently balanced to keep the path as level as possible. While collecting pavers and walking them to their place, then on my knees, I sense I’m communing with God and often find myself saying the Jesus Prayer. Though possessing no flowers or plants, the garden is already a place to commune with God.
  6. Both vision and effort are needed to accomplish the garden. The Prayer Garden will take more than a vision of plants and flowers, paths and fountain, structures and design. The end result will also include much effort. Such is the Christian life. Jesus gives us a vision of the goal – Himself – and scripture writers elaborate on the vision. Yet, we must do the work necessary for our spiritual development. God is already doing His part in conforming us to the image of His Son. We need to enter into His work by faith and effort so that something beautiful will result.
  7. My perfectionism is constantly challenged. My unrealistic expectations must be released. I need to do the work well but also realize my own limitations and the limitations of such a garden. Plants are rather forgiving as is soil. I need to learn how to work with both and not get paralyzed by my lack of experience or by visions of a “perfect” garden. There is no such thing. There’s nothing wrong with learning, experimenting, changing, and “mistakes.” Better to get it done (as well as possible) than becoming immobilized by trying to be perfect. Again, such is the Christian life. God does the perfecting, we don’t. We simply seek to obey Him following His ways. Trying to be perfect is not part of being Christian.
  8. Some people “get it,” some people don’t. In my naivety, I think everyone loves a garden and sees the beauty of God in flowers and plants. But, not everyone does. To be aware of the Creator in His creation is missed by many. Other pursuits occupy their time. Awareness is not a priority. It’s sad. So much of God is manifested in creation if we’d slow down, pause, and see. We know God works well with a few. So will this Prayer Garden.
  9. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to transform a small uninspiring space into something beautiful. We have been created to be creative. It’s life-giving to fashion something new from a blank canvass whether the canvass is a page, a room, a piece of wood or ground. The material comes to life. In the case of the Prayer Garden, a small piece of land is sanctified to God’s beauty making the whole world a bit more beautiful. And, I get to be a part of it. Thanks be to God!

Instruction from creation will never cease. I hope I’m attentive to learn, making me a more beautiful person as well.

Thanks for reading. Leave your comments below.

If you haven’t watched this video yet, please do. You’ll become better acquainted with the Prayer Garden venture.

Dr. K/Keith