Have you ever heard of the Aran Islands?
They are a set of three small islands off the west coast of Ireland, famous for their rich wool sweaters and being a heart of Irish cultural preservation.
When we lived in Ireland, we could see these islands from our living room window—when it wasn’t raining, anyway. Folk used to say, “If you can’t see Aran, it’s raining. If you can see them, its gonna rain.”
We had the privilege of visiting the three islands a few times during our time there and the place is truly enchanting.
One of my favorite tales about the islands is about how the early inhabitants made the ground suitable for growing spuds and other root vegetables.
They built the soil.
You see, what wasn’t beach was solid rock. I don’t know much about agriculture, but I do know it’s fairly impossible to plant anything in solid rock. However, the stalwart Irish weren’t to be outdone by an island and they set their plan to work.
The gathered large amounts of seaweed—of which they had an endless supply—and sand from the shore. They layered seaweed and sand, seaweed and sand, again and again and again.
Over time, the seaweed broke down, the sand was enriched with the nutrients and a fertile soil was formed. With the sustenance obtained from the sea, and the crops grown on these new fertile plots, the inhabitants of the Aran Islands found their livelihood.
It was truly ingenious. A true feat of human ingenuity, creativity, and strength to create good soil where there had been rock.
Sometimes I think we attempt to apply these same ideas to our spiritual lives as well.
We read in the Bible the parable about the types of soil. We read about the heart that is like the path, packed down and hardened. When God’s word falls on these hearts it is snatched up by the predators of the world before it can even take root. Or the weeded patch. God’s word quickly sprouts and spiritual growth seems promising, but then the weeds of worry, greed, and selfish living choke out the seed of the Truth. Or the rocky soil. When the seed God’s Word falls on this soil, it also sprouts quickly, promising a good return, but without deep, rich soil for the new growth to take root, it is quickly scorched by the heat of strife and dies away.
Then. Ah, yes. The good soil. It takes root, grows deep and tall, and produces a crop up to a hundred times more than was sown.
I want to be the good soil, we think. I can’t let myself become rocky or weeded.
And so we start to build. We drag layer upon layer of good deed. Go to church every week? Lay that down. Teach Sunday School or VBS? Sprinkle that on top. Spread out a generous helping of financial generosity. Yes, this surely will create the good soil.
We toil and strive and hustle and work to drag our own goodness and pile it up in an attempt to cover up the rock-hard state of our souls and somehow create fertile soil from our good intentions.
However, what we end up with is not a bumper crop of spiritual growth. Rather we end up feeling defeated, beat down, worn out.
You see, we can’t take our stone-hard hearts and will them soft and pliable, ready to receive God’s Word and grow.
It is not up to us—it has never been up to us—to create goodness within ourselves.
No, it is only by God’s grace, through the work of His Holy Spirit.
All those good things we attempted to cobble together? Those should come from the overflow of what God is doing in and through us, rather than in our own strength as an attempt to make it all better.
Read the Bible everyday? Yes. Go to church? Yes. Serve others? Of course!
But those things should be the avenue through which God works and molds and softens and does what He does best—create. It is through seeking Him, pursuing Him, soaking in His presence that our hearts are changed.
Only the One who transformed water to wine can transform a heart of stone to good soil. Sometimes the best thing we can do is cease striving, say no to the ‘holy hustle’, and simply be still. Be still and listen to Him. Talk with Him. Open the darkest places of our hearts where we hide all the hurt and filth and muck we pray no one discovers, and let Him clean it out.
Friend, are you trying to build your own soil? Are you striving to be good enough? Are you weary from dragging around your own works hoping they will somehow produce the life-zeal you are desperately seeking?
Can I encourage you to just lay it all down? Lay it in the hands of the One who created everything from nothing and let His transforming love do it’s mighty work in your heart.