Romans 5:3-5 (ESV) Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us
When I was growing up, my father and I often went “treasure hunting” or at least that’s how I remember our walks through the woods, farm, neighborhood, and even the backyard on occasion. We never came home without our pockets full of “treasure”—interesting rocks, leaves, sticks, flowers, bugs, and the stray nut, bolt, screw, toboggan, mitten, sock, or such. To this day, when we walk together or by ourselves, we still come home with something(s) jangling, clinking, or disintegrating in our pockets.
Yet our treasures would be considered as trash by many—castoffs, mismatched, rusty, broken, decaying pieces of what should’ve been left where we saw it. But we see beauty and usefulness in each piece—that splash of color, that unusual shape or texture, that piece to replace what I lost last month on another of my adventures or will need for next week’s project or repair.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” captures the principle of the hidden beauty of agricultural land waste application as a valuable soil amendment for organic matter, nutrient, and water reclamation. That which is truly called waste—manure, compost, sewage, wastewater—is treasure in the eyes of a soil scientist because you are getting nutrients, water, organic matter and microorganisms in one perfect package. (Granted, I don’t want to put any of that in my pockets, but I would like a truckload or two for my yard and garden. These scraped subdivision soils need all the help they can get!)
“Black gold,” “free money,” and other such terms are lovingly used by farmers to describe the true worth of solid and liquid agricultural waste to current and future productivity. In fact, my father just today emailed me a picture of his spinach crop happily growing in a new application of incorporated manure. This manure is and will be providing a readily available source of plant nutrients and water to his crops throughout the season. And then his soil will be bettered for future crops because of the increased total soil organic matter content, promotion of soil micro and macro organism populations, improved drainage, chemical activity, pH, and nearly everything else you want to happen to promote soil health.
Yet the public perception of using agricultural waste as a soil amendment is often that of fear and disgust because of lack of knowledge. As a soil scientist, I’ve been frequently asked, “What is the best thing I can do for my yard, garden, flower bed?” and my response of “manure or compost” is often received with disbelief, disgust, and denial unless they have used (or known someone who used these before). And if they had, then the response is (usually), “Yes! I have never had such big and pretty grass, tomatoes, roses!”
An important soil science fact: for the waste itself to have reached the status of “now that’s good stuff!,” it has had to undergo a series of decay reactions to bring the nutrient percentages in the waste into proper ratios that promote crop growth, rather than hinder it. In other words, if the amount of carbon in the waste is much higher than the nitrogen amounts (called the C:N ratio), the waste isn’t a good soil additive for an actively growing crop. This is because if the C:N ratio of the waste is higher than the C:N ratio of the soil, the microbes in the soil and in the waste can take away essential nitrogen from the crop, instead of being a source of nitrogen to the crop (which is generally the reason waste is added to the soil). Needless to say, sufficient time for allowing these decay reactions to decrease the C:N ratios are required so that the waste addition will be helpful to the growing crop. In other words, if you don’t give the waste enough time to decay, both in physical size and in nutrient ratios, the waste will truly be waste for the crop and its desired productivity at harvest.
So while thinking about all of this a few days ago, I made a connection to Romans 5:3-5 (ESV): Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The connection that I’m seeing as a Christian and a soil scientist is that many times what I perceive as unwanted additions (waste) to my life (trials, challenges, suffering, persecution) are the very things which bring about much-needed changes in my heart, both for now and the future. That which I wouldn’t choose for myself (much less put in my pockets) because I consider them as trials, not treasures, are the very things which display the beauty of grace and love by nourishing the growth of the fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23) in my life in ways that nothing else can. These sufferings cause a decay of my pride which leads to growth of humility as they are changing me into one who endures and hopes because the very character of the soil of my heart and life has been amended as unto Christ by the workings of the Holy Spirit alive in me. For when my ratio of self to Christ has been properly decreased, then I am ready to be useful soil to promote the beauty of His love, grace, hope, and joy to a world dying around me without eternal life in Christ.
This series of decay reactions of my pride and self are essential for real growth to occur. This kind of growth in character is not measured in piled-up achievements, but in those thoughts, choices, emotions (patience, forgiveness, understanding) which I choose to cherish as honoring Christ. Stepping back instead of pushing forward, staying quiet instead of speaking up, and such indicate I have grown in obedience and trust, and thus, faith, as evidence of the growing health and vigor of the soil of my heart and life because I have found the true value in what I used to consider waste (see Matthew 26:6-13).
Just like farmers who used to reject conservation tillage farming methods because they were afraid they would be considered lazy, inept, and poor by having dirty fields covered with residue, Christians who are undergoing suffering (and its effect of a life that often looks messy in pain, grief, loss) are often afraid of being considered to be lacking in faith. Others who haven’t learned the true value of suffering as an amendment to one’s life for bringing glory to God and good to his people (see John chapter 9) can judge those in suffering to be lazy, inept, and poor in faith. They might think this because they’ve been deceived that “if I believe hard enough, all will be good” or worse yet, the deception that “I can do all things by myself and for myself.” In our culture of “I got this,” suffering is often seen as inability to overcome that which is undesirable and thus, a life wasted. Yet I’ve found this inability to overcome is precious treasure ripe with freedom and hope because there is vibrant joy in surrender and obedience (see Psalm 119:32 and 45). That which I desperately tried to remove from my life as unwanted has turned out to be the very amendment which has brought true life in this season of my life and in whatever seasons God has for me to come. Those who don’t recognize the value of suffering ask me, “How can you have joy in this?” They don’t understand that what they think is waste is indeed treasure to me because it has brought me closer to Christ. (And the hope that I’ve found in Christ overflows even the deepest of pockets!) Honestly, this trial still makes getting through most days as hard as shoveling chicken manure, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything because of what God has taught me in it—He truly is my treasure for today and forever (see Isaiah 33:6).