John W. Cowart

Until recently I suspected that farmers, gardeners, and seed companies conspire to deceive the public with a gigantic hoax.

My suspicions began when I was a cub scout; for one of my badges, I was supposed to grow something from a seed. Since avocados have big seeds, I chose to grow one. Carefully following the instructions in the scout book, I inserted toothpicks all around the large seed and suspended the thing in a glass of water and put it on top of the refrigerator. The water first stagnated and then evaporated leaving a scum in the glass; the seed did nothing.

After this initial failure, I tried planting peach pits, apple cores and even a coconut we received in a Christmas package; but the only thing that grew was the suspicion forming in the back of my mind that I was the victim of a myth.

I decided that a conspiracy existed which was making a fool of me.

My childhood suspicion was reinforced shortly after my marriage.

My new wife, in an effort to hold down food costs, decided we should plant a kitchen garden between the edge of the driveway and the oil tank beside our garage. I reluctantly dug the soil, spaded in the fertilizer and constructed some neat rows for our crop. I even posted one of my old army uniforms as a scarecrow to guard our “south forty”. At the local hardware store we bought some packets of seeds with pictures of thriving vegetables on the envelopes. I’d read that the Indians taught the Pilgrims a clever trick about growing things from seeds, so I buried a small fish with each grain I planted.

As time passed the cat dug up the fish and the scarecrow fell over – but every seed I’d buried stayed buried.

This confirmed my suspicion:

Nothing Really Grows From Seeds!

Although I agreed publicly to what the textbooks and seed catalogs said and did nothing to expose their lie, in my mind I thought that seeds were probably some kind of waste product from the plants, having nothing to do with making new plants.

My experiences led me to believe that information about things growing from seeds was a lie and a myth propagated by people who sell seeds.

This personal suspicion was backed by all my farming experience – until last summer’s picnic.

In midsummer my family picnicked at our private spot. Although I did not pay much attention to them at the time, two important things happened:

The first incident was that my little girl sat down in a patch of sandspurs. The sandspur ought to be Florida’s Official State Flower because they grow here so readily. They are malignant weeds with slender stalks ending with clusters of nasty sharp stickers. These spurs are the seed of the plant and when you touch one its barbed spines stab deep in your flesh and cling tenaciously until you forcibly pluck them out – then they stick in the hand you plucked with.

My three-year-old’s posterior was covered with them, so I rescued her from the patch and stood her on a rock to remove the spurs, tossing them in a pile beside the rock.

The other important thing that happened was that we had watermelon for dessert and, after our picnic, to keep from having to cart wet trash down to the dumpster, I scooped the juice and seeds out of the rinds and dumped the soggy mess beside the fence.

Summer passed.

Last week when I walked out to the back fence, I found the ground covered with the broad scalloped green leaves of watermelon vines. They spiraled along the fence line and filled the ditch in swirling profusion. I was flabbergasted. Could seeds have caused this? I doubted the evidence, so I rushed over to the rock where I had rescued Eve, and there, waving their thorny heads in defiant glory, was a brand-new patch of sandspurs.

My distorted view of the plant world collapsed. I was forced to admit that things really do grow from seeds.

 You do get what you plant.

All my life I’ve heard the expression, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”.

But, I didn’t believe that was true.

Now, I was seeing indisputable proof of that statement. I went back to the fence and got down on my hands and knees to examine my vines better. There were small yellow flowers at intervals along my vine, and when I looked closer, I discovered tiny nut-shaped warts on the stems. They could only be baby watermelons!

I was inadvertently a father – or rather, a farmer.

This pleasing phenomenon was really something to think about: you do get what you plant.

Plant watermelon seeds, you get watermelons.

Plant tomato seeds, you get tomatoes.

Plant sandspurs, you get sandspurs.

Plant bird seed, you get…?

Well, that’s the only exception that I can think of.

You do get exactly what you plant.

I lay down on top of the picnic table to consider the implications of this discovery. How could I have doubted such a basic fact of life – such a fundamental principle of the universe? Everyone know that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. If you sow tension, you get ulcers. If you sow resentment, you get bitterness. If you plant love, you harvest loveliness. The way you treat your parents is the way your children will treat you. Your actions have specific consequences. Sandspurs or watermelons. You get what you plant.

As I lay there looking up into the branches of an overhanging oak thinking about this basic fact of life, I realized one of the reasons I had doubted it before was that I had discounted the time factor.

Nothing grows overnight. No one gets what he plants the same day he plants it. The man who plants an acorn will never live to see it become a mature oak. As a child I expected to see results too soon. When I did not see new sprouts immediately, I concluded there were no results at all.

It had taken all summer for my watermelons to come up; when I poured those soggy seeds on the round, I didn’t expect anything to come of my action. I forgot the time factor: you get the same thing you plant, but you get it later than you planted it.

  Some of our confusion about the time factor involved in getting what we plant comes from our experiences as children. When you were little, Daddy said, “Don’t try to give the cat a bath”. If you disobeyed and gave the cat a bath anyhow, you were immediately scratched. The punishment for your misdeed came right on the heels of the action. In the same way, rewards followed your good deeds immediately. As soon as you finished your spinach, Mother served dessert.

However, as we grew older, the time between a deed and its consequences increased. We were told that if we stole a candy bar, we would be punished; but, we stole the candy and nothing happened. No punishment arrived. We began to suspect that there was a conspiracy afoot to make fools of us. We began to suspect that there were no rewards or punishments for most of our actions – nothing would grow from the seeds we planted.

But, no matter how much we suspected – or wanted to believed – that nothing would grow out of our deeds, we still knew that it is a fact of life that what you plant, you pick.

This mixture of suspicion and sure knowledge leaves us with a vague, uneasy feeling, a gnawing anxiety. We know that we have done some things which should produce specific results. When those consequences do not come immediately, we are perplexed and anxious. Some of us are still waiting for a spanking over a candy stolen 30 years ago. In fact, we still anticipate the spanking long after we’ve forgotten what we did to deserve it.

This can screw up your head big time!

Knowing that we should get that deserved spanking, we often take the job into our own hands and punish ourselves more severely than God or any responsible adult would do. The man who punishes himself is never sure when he has done enough, so he continues to berate and chastise himself for some deed done so long ago that he’s forgotten what it was he did in the first place.

At other times, we know exactly what it is we did that was wrong and deserving of punishment. We know that we have planted crabgrass in the lawn of our lives, and we don’t know what to do about it. We begin to see the consequences for some of our misdeeds, but don’t know how to make things right. We recognize opportunities we should have taken – but didn’t. We recall words spoken that can never be unsaid. After they are grown, we realize mistakes we made in raising the children.

We can sympathize with the dilemma of the girl who tearfully asked her mother, “How do I get to be a virgin again”?

Jesus once told a story about a farmer who planted a wheat field only to discover that some enemy came and planted tares (which I imagine are the Palestinian version of sandspurs) in with his wheat. The field hands wanted to try to root out the sandspurs immediately, but the Owner told them to wait until harvest – the final gathering in and sorting out – and then the wheat and the tares could be separated.

Although this story is primarily eschatological, I believe we can see its relevance to our individual situations: The point is that God can be relied on to sort out the sandspurs I’ve planted in my own life; at the same time, I’m sure that He intends for me to stop planting more sandspurs. Jesus often forgave people with the words, “Go and sin no more”.

Christ died for our sins, taking on himself the ultimate consequence for our deeds. We are to accept his sacrifice, trusting him to sort out the wheat from the tares in our actions while we forgive ourselves and go on planting wheat instead of more sandspurs. We can quit our self-accusations and recriminations, realizing that Christ has taken on himself the consequence of our sin. We are to amend what we can and leave the rest to his judgment.

He has picked what we have planted.

And he can be trusted to sort out the whole field at harvest time. He knows what he’s doing.

There is one other factor I considered as I lay on the picnic table thinking about watermelons and sandspurs. You get the same thing you plant, but you get it later than you planted it --  and you get more of it than you planted!

You don’t plant an apple seed and get an apple – you get a whole tree full of apples.

The little morsel of gossip becomes the character-destroying rumor. The shrewd young businessman becomes the grasping miserly Scrooge. The promiscuous young swinger grows into the jaded, obscene, dirty old man. Nursing homes are full of sour old grouches who were once chic young cynics. You sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

In contrast to growing evil in a man, we have all met some old Christian who has mellowed over the years, who seems to glow with the presence of God. We look in awe at some of these old prayer-warriors and despair of ever reaching such heights of spirituality ourselves.

What we fail to realize is that we are viewing the mature growth of seeds planted years ago. The spiritual giant you admire once planted seeds of kindness and gentleness which grew into love and blossomed into godliness.

There is a danger, however, in comparing yourself with others. When you look at the insignificant seeds you are planting, you often feel inferior. We hear some of our contemporaries telling about spectacular answers to prayer and about miraculous healings and about how God provides them with thousands of dollars for some special project. These reports intimidate us. It seems to be all we can manage just top build up enough courage to say a few encouraging words to a man at work much less expound some dynamic testimony. We figure we’re blessed if the Lord helps us scrape up enough money to pay the past-due balance on the light bill, much less buy a fully equipped van for an evangelistic trip to Alaska. We only give money to feed the poor on rare occasions and hardly ever take them into our homes. The best we can do to clothe the naked is to give the clothes the kids have outgrown to the Salvation Army. The seeds we plant seem so tiny, so minute, so insignificant – but they are seeds. And seeds do grow. And the seeds we plant in ourselves will grow for all eternity.

Just because you do not see immediate results, don’t fall into the suspicion that there are no results.

You will get what you plant.

No, you will not get it the same day, but you will get it; and you will get more of it that you planted.

The more you plant, the more you will harvest. Do not despair of planting good deeds, because the growth of these actions in you will ultimately produce nothing less than Christ-likeness!

“When he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”.

The deeds you sow for God’s kingdom may seem tiny, and you may discern no immediate result, but keep sowing them. There is an abundant harvest ahead.

Remember that it is the tiny mustard seed of faith that displaces the whole mountain of dirt.

This article, which first appeared in the April 20, 1979 issue of The Church Herald, has been reprinted many times since.


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