Japanese garden. Image by Drobekpetr from Pixabay

If something doesn’t fit your idea of a garden, is it still a garden?

I must confess to having trouble warming up to Japanese gardens. They often feature distinctive elements such as conifers and moss, gravel raked to suggest waves in water, stone lanterns or water basins, and perhaps a bridge.

But to me, a garden isn’t really a garden unless its primary focus is an abundance of colourful flowers.

So are Japanese gardens still gardens? Very much so!

They still celebrate nature, even if some elements are suggested rather than incorporated literally. They still reflect the beauty that God has placed on this Earth. They still have the essentials down pat.

I guess I need to expand my idea of what a garden is.

We shouldn’t look askance at the way others have created their gardens. God smiles on them all.

Perhaps this is a lesson we can apply to the Christian life, too.

The Apostle Paul taught that we shouldn’t quarrel about things that are matters of opinion.

In Romans 14, Paul instructs Christians not to fall into dissension or division over disputable matters. He gives as one example the issue of what we eat:

Someone whose conscience allows him or her to eat anything shouldn’t look down on the one whose doesn’t, and the person who abstains from certain foods shouldn’t judge the one who eats those same foods. For God has accepted them both, Paul says.

I think he’s telling us that in some areas, we should act according to what the Holy Spirit tells us through our individual consciences: not everything need become a hard and fast rule for the entire church.

Certain matters are essential to the Christian life, of course, and should never be compromised on. Some things are worth fighting for. But other issues aren’t central to the faith, and in these areas we should allow some leeway and not be legalistic.

My idea of the Christian life might be too narrow for some believers, and I shouldn’t impose that on them.

After all, my idea of what makes a garden might be too narrow for some people, too.

Others might prefer to feature flowers of only one colour in their garden, like Vita Sackville-West’s famous “White Garden.”

Montreal Botanical Garden. Image by Santiago Endara from Pixabay

Their gardens might reflect the quirky personality of the gardener and incorporate avant-garde sculptures, wacky topiary or tinkling wind chimes.

They might feature no lawn, or lots of lawn; plants for shade only or for full sun; vegetables only, flowers only, or a mixture of the two.

All of these things are non-essentials and are up to the individual gardener.

But whatever a garden looks like, all of them are beautiful, because they honour the One who created nature. They all deserve respect.

Other believer’s lives, like their gardens, might look very different from my ideal.

But God smiles on all those who honour Him, who have the essentials down pat. And I should honour them in turn by showing them love and respect.

One of my study Bibles sums it up this way:

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in everything, love.”

Words to live by, both in the garden and in the Christian life!

© 2021 Lori J. Cartmell. All rights reserved.

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