I re-read Robinson Crusoe recently and I have to admit it bored me. When I was a kid I must have speed-bumped over the tedious descriptions of his domestic life after surviving the shipwreck. Cannibals and treasure were big when I was little, now the book reads like a guide for end-of-the-world prepers, including pages and pages about agriculture.
But a particular turning point in Crusoe’s story that I’d missed was discovering a bag of seeds in another shipwreck in his island. There were not many of seeds and he didn’t know exactly what type they were, but he knew they were important. He knew if he could get them to grow he would have food for the long haul.
The first harvest was the greatest challenge. Not much came up. He had a decision to make: use the crop for food or use it to sow for the future. Tough choice. No guarantees. The seeds may not sprout. The weather may fail. The birds may eat it all. He had just enough seed for one attempt. He agonized over the decision. When he finally did sow the seeds, it was like imagery from the Psalms where it says a sower went out weeping carrying seeds to sow. The crop did come in for Crusoe and in successive years yielded crops that sustained him for many years.
When we are really depressed it feels like we have little or nothing to offer the world. Depression is a soul turned in on itself. We don’t necessarily set out to do it, but we become takers. Anything that comes to us; any seed of joy or hope, we eat it up. We are so starved for anything good it’s inconceivable to do anything else. But those seeds, landing in a depressed soul are like snowflakes falling down a chimney; instantly gone without a trace, therefore I know how ridiculous what I’m about to tell you is. I thought so myself when the Spirit suggested it to me. One day he asked me what I wanted to see in my life. I said I wanted joy. He told me that the Kingdom Jesus talked about was an agricultural kingdom. That understanding sowing and reaping were key to understanding his kingdom. If you want to reap a crop of joy, he said, you have to sow joy. I can’t say I understood this very well and I won’t pretend I believed it, but there was something so simple and earnest about the way he said it to me that I thought I should give it a try.
Like Robinson Crusoe, I had to scavenge for seed. I was shipwrecked on the island Despair. I didn’t think there were any seeds I could sow because I was so joyless, but I also felt the Holy Spirit wouldn’t suggest something to me that was impossible. And just like Robinson Crusoe I found the seeds weren’t on the island; they weren’t in me at all. In order to sow seeds of joy, I had to look at other people and think about what might bring them joy. Then I had to sow the joy I wanted; not the joy I felt, because I did not feel any joy.
I guess all seeds are dead until they meet the right conditions, and every seed doesn’t sprout even then. It’s risky, this sowing business. The seeds go into the wind. Some are lost. Some land on rocks. But some eventually go under the ground. Then you wait to see if life will emerge. That was the really strange thing; taking the few seeds of joy I found and throwing them out into the world without knowing if they would produce anything, or when they would. It wasn’t easy but I did it. The Spirit helped me. He showed me the seed. He prompted me to sow. He whispered that it was ok to wait and to be patient.
I wish I could tell you why this works but I can’t. Do you know no one can explain why seeds sprout and grow into their kind or why humans cells divide in the womb and make a child? Go look it up. You’ll find plenty of “how” but nothing on “why.” It’s built into the world, that’s all. It doesn’t just work with joy. If you’re anxious try sowing peace. If you’re angry try sowing kindness. The more you want to grow the more seed you’ll need to sow.
What did this look like for me? It started with rejoicing over things that others were enjoying. In my depressed state I had become immune to the joy of others. I tended to minimize or ignore or discount anyone’s joy. It was as if I said: since I don’t have joy, there must not be such a thing as joy – it’s all fake. That’s not a good way to find joy. In fact, that frame of mind closes the door to joy and locks it from the inside. If a thing doesn’t exist why would we expect to find it?
What I did is easy to do once you think of it, and once the Spirit helped me I saw there were lots of places to sow. A kid is enjoying riding their bike or shooting hoops. Smile at them. A lady finds a good deal in the grocery store. Tell her it’s cool. The guy next door plants a bush and you see in his eyes that he likes it. Compliment him and it. That’s sowing joy. I admit that when I started doing this it was hard and I felt a little fake, but the more I did it the more it felt real and right. Like much of what I’ve shared in these articles, I can’t pinpoint the moment the joy started to grow, but why would I? Seeds grow down into the soil before they grow up into the light. The plant is not there and then it is. And unless it’s one of those crazy bamboo trees that can grow three feet in a day, you can’t see much difference from one day to the next. It did happen though; I began to feel joy. When I saw other people enjoying things, I felt it was real.
Maybe that’s what happened. Like it or not this is a world where faith is the soil of life. It’s the core of economics and relationships and everything in between. The staunchest atheist gets up every day and walks in faith. It’s unavoidable. When I started believing in joy again, the fallow ground of my depressed heart was tilled as it were; it was broken up and the joy seeds fell into something they could take root in. Slowly the crop grew into something sustainable and sustaining. Now I have joy. I even have seed to give away – like writing articles to encourage you!
Give this a try. It’s very simple and accessible just as all the things the Spirit has suggested to me. We know it has to be that way because depression and anxiety don’t leave room for strenuous, hard to attain solutions. We can do this. You can walk out of depression and anxiety. Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help you.