For rural communities, keeping tabs on the corn crop is simply part of life. This makes a good deal of sense: the success or failure of the crop hugely impacts the economic well-being of the community, so it is quite reasonable to be concerned with how the crop is doing. This said, no one simply spends their hours sitting in a lawn chair on the side of the field watching the corn grow! This would be absurd. Even the most fastidious farmer would not do so. The changes in the corn that occur minute-by-minute are too gradual, so such a detailed vigil would be pointless. And not only would it be pointless, but such scrupulous oversight would also take the farmer away from other important tasks which promote a fruitful crop, such as spraying fertilizers or pesticides.
This is obvious enough when talking about growing corn, but this is less obvious when applied to the cultivation of the field of one’s soul. Many of us, in our desire to “be perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48) turn ourselves into professional crop-watchers. Sometimes this takes the form of the constant examination of conscience, wherein one’s obsessive search for sins hinders one from doing many good works. Sometimes this takes shape as “perpetual discernment,” where the feverish search for God’s will hinders the work of actually doing God’s will. Sometimes it is simply the constant evaluation of one’s own progress, as when one is constantly discouraged that he is not “growing fast enough in the spiritual life; something must be wrong!”
It is worth noting that the Lord often employs agricultural imagery in his parables. Agricultural growth is gradual, and results are not instantaneous. Likewise, spiritual growth is gradual, such that it cannot be measured as if we could become saints overnight. It is good to watch ourselves and to examine our consciences, but if we are examining ourselves more frequently than the farmer is checking up on his corn, there is probably something wrong. Normally this sort of scrupulous over-examination is a sign we are a bit too self-absorbed: it is a red flag for pride.
Rather than looking so intently at ourselves, the one whom we want to fix our eyes on is the Lord! Being freed from excessive self-concern, our chief concern will shift to knowing and loving God, and this is what spiritual growth is all about. Gazing upon God, we will have the peace of growing in his grace, knowing that he, and not we, is the cause of all our fruitfulness.
Photo by Milada Vigerova