My fig tree year
Sometimes, I think I’ve forgotten how to live in the present. Memory and imagination, nostalgia and wistfulness, the past and the future—I seem to dwell in those places a little too often these days. It was years ago, but still I vividly remember a conversation I once had with a wise friend. He spoke of the “eternal now,” a concept that has stayed with me ever since. To enter into the eternal now is to reside fully in the present. Not to be bound by what was or what is to come, but to live freely in each moment. I’ve lost that.
I have to admit: I don’t love where I am, both geographically and interiorly. I miss my days in New York, my friends who truly saw me, my zest for life and penchant for exploring. I miss consoling prayer and the eyes of faith that allowed me to see God at every turn. I miss being arrested by the raw humanity of the city, being confronted daily by my need to change, being filled to the brim with hope of it happening. Yet there’s something oddly comforting about wallowing, about reminiscing about the past to avoid the pain of the present, about dreaming up what my life could be like. And in all my travel recently, it’s been easy to avoid the truth of my current state. But now, I’m facing it. And already I start to feel that freedom of living in reality, the joy that comes from being brave, even in a small way.
And then came the fig tree. Not a literal one, but a parable. It struck me square in the soul recently:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)
Now, it hasn’t been three years that I’ve been searching for fruit on a metaphorical fig tree. But eight months of general discontent and desolation sure is a long time. And there are times I dream up in my head plans to uproot my life, as if somehow that would instantly fix the restlessness in my heart. No, no, no, God said in His gentle, Fatherly way. That is not what I want for you, Emma. Cultivate the ground around you; fertilize it. We will do it together. Wait and see what I can do. They were hard words to hear in my spiritual exhaustion, but what good they did my hardened heart, too.
I’ve committed to staying here, in the quiet, mundane suburbs of Philadelphia, for another year. It was somewhat of an easy choice, one God paved the way for—it isn’t as if He gave me flashing lights or a parted sea, but I chose in confidence. And I keep choosing to believe that this is what He desires. This fig tree came along many weeks later, as a simple gift and glimmer of hope. He doesn’t promise me great fruit, no. But I trust that He does want good things for me. That He does have the power to transform my experience, to restore me to a life full of joy and direction, to wipe away sadness and fear. And I choose to live my life as a gift to Him.
I like to think I’ve started today. I’m rediscovering the delight I find in the pursuit of abundant life. It happened this morning as I watched a homeless man nod off as he slowly unwrapped his muffin as if savoring his hunger that was on the verge of satiety. Why didn’t I join him at his table? I wish I had. I wish I’d sat across from him, asked his name and his story. Really seen him. Yet it’s good for me to be faced by my own inadequacies, allowing that desire for encounter to grow again. I find joy even as I fall short. The delight continued as I sat in a coffee shop, moved to tears by the memoir I read. As I walked down the street and passed a friendly stranger—“Little Red Riding Hood, I presume?” he asked as he watched me pass in my hooded coat. These little things. They are what bring me back to the eternal now, and documenting them does me even more good.
So, I officially dub this my fig tree year. I’ll keep returning to the orchard, and I’ll keep feeling that pang of frustration, I’m sure. Yet—I pray—I’ll keep cultivating, fertilizing, choosing the good, looking for joy. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, God will send me some figs.