This article is an introductory piece to a new regular series called “Rhythms of Work.”
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot…
a time to weep and a time to laugh…
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and time to throw away…
a time to be silent and a time to speak…
Ecclesiastes 3:1-7, portions
Have you ever found yourself in an unexpectedly difficult place, struggling to understand how you got there? Maybe the perfect storm hit your life and all that was dear and familiar got washed away, revealing a bare, and often severely cracked, foundation. Perhaps you didn’t really notice it, but imperceptibly, over time, your soul ended up cracked and dry. That’s how drought happens. Slowly, over time, what used to be streams of water gushing over a rocky bed, diminish to a mere trickle, and then dry up altogether. It doesn’t matter much whether the storm or the drought started in your work or your family and spread to your soul, or whether the deep trauma started in your soul and affected everything in your life, including your work. Call it a perfect storm or a severe drought, the effects are the same. Life is a mess.
This is my story. Someone pulled the plug on my beautiful life and all the water drained out of my soul. The non-profit start-up I was working on didn’t materialize. As board chair of another non-profit, it became apparent I would have to shut it down. My husband lost his job. We were involved in a betrayal and a lawsuit. My adult children all seemed to be struggling. We were forced to move out of our favorite home overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge to a small, dark home with orange counter tops in wine country, far away from our friends, our community, and our church home. The cracks in our thirty-five-year marriage were widening, and it looked like it might fall apart. All of a sudden, my life was a disaster and I had no answers. It seemed the harder I prayed the worse things got… for several years!
During that season, I discovered gardening and the vineyard… and I don’t mean just the wine! God had banished us to wine country and, by God’s grace, it was the rhythm and the metaphor of the vineyard that slowly began to nourish my soul and repair our marriage. The images of piled up branches, waiting to be burned and the naked vines waiting for spring mirrored my desolate soul. The compost pile, filled with rotten banana peels and moldy watermelon rinds, reminded me of the death I was experiencing.
Mercifully, the gifts of each season give way to the gifts of the next season, and spring follows winter. Tiny green shoots magically appear from the wounds of the pruning shears. The green branch puts out tendrils that attach to the wires, leaves to catch the sun, and flowers that hold the promise for a harvest. Summer follows with crazy growth, grapes forming, growing, changing color through a mysterious process called veraison; all the while becoming sweeter and readier for harvest. Fall brings a flurry of activity as harvest goes into full swing. The air is filled with the sweetly rotting scent of fruit on the move from the vineyards to the wineries. Harvest, and the wine that results, is the whole point of vineyards! The whole community breathes a collective sigh of relief and celebrations ensue once the harvest is in. The leaves turn colors as they slow and stop the process of photosynthesis. The rains come, and pruning strips the once-full vine of her beauty, leaving her standing alone and misshapen in fields of yellow mustard flowers to wait, once more, for spring.
Over the course of several years, the beauty and slow rhythm of each season, inexorably pushing into the next, opened up new pathways in my soul to receive the gifts of my exile. I began to welcome the pruning shears and the need for death to come before resurrection. Hope came, like the spring flowers hoping for pollination and, ultimately, fruit. I toiled, doing the hard work of summer transformation. In the end, some fruit has come, and harvest, at least for one cycle, is in! Our marriage is better than it’s ever been. We both have jobs we love. While there are still many, macro- and micro-seasons of winter to come, I have learned to lean in to the rhythm of the vineyard, knowing that spring will come. The journey to becoming like Christ in his life and his death is a journey through many seasons.
The lessons from the vineyard apply to many spheres of life. Would you join me on a journey to explore the vineyard and consider some of the metaphors that might give you a new way of being, working, and leading? Thanks for coming along!
Susie Lipps is Fuller’s Bay Area director for Strategic Engagement. She is an entrepreneur, most recently launching Conversations in the Vineyard, which marries two of her passions: leadership and vineyards. Susie loves good coffee, good wine, and the great conversations that inevitably accompany them.