I LOVE sunflowers. But I have an issue with them. Every time I plant sunflower seeds in our yard, I get nothing. No sprouts. No flowers. Nada. I put those things all over the place, but it doesn’t matter. I plant many other seeds quite successfully, but sunflowers don’t care. Absolutely nothing has come out of the ground when I plant sunflowers’ seeds at any time in the history of sunflowers.

Here’s the issue—when my husband plants them, those things jump out of the ground. We have a bounty of sunflowers. I don’t do anything differently. But I can’t grow sunflowers to save my life. I need to stay married if only to have a source of sunflowers in my world.

Even a good seed sower can have problems with uncooperative soil.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post here about talking about good stories and what makes them good.

I suggested two things:

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

More than anything, it seems, people want to tell good stories with their lives these days. “Story” is a buzzword, but it’s also a profoundly honest reaction to the black and white, in or out culture that preceded its popularity. We are all in the middle of some tale, and we’re not nearly as sure of the ending as most people seem convinced. So wanting to make sure our stories end well and keep interest isn’t the vain pursuit some people accuse it of.

The best storyteller ever didn’t think so.

After Jesus gave his “Parables 101” class, he went right into his first one. No prep, no notes. He just set one down for his audience right there.

They did not understand it.

Clearly, they needed to retake the intro class.

TLDR version: A farmer planted some seeds. He wasn’t very discriminatory about the way he planted them or where they fell. This was actually not too far off from current farming practices for Jesus’ time. Or he just had really bad aim. Whatever.

Some of the seeds landed on the road, where birds ate those babies right up. Some ended up in the middle of rocks, and some dropped in the weeds. Rocks aren’t very fertile soil when the drought hits, and weeds…well, as a gardener, I know how fast weeds grow. Crazy fast. Either way, the good seed doesn’t fare well.

And some fell in soil that was juuuust right and grew big and strong.

It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears for farmers.

Of course, Jesus was talking about our hearts, not basic dirt. What kind of heart will produce big, strong, plentiful crops from the story seeds he offers?

Spoiler: It’s not the first three. So let’s look at that first one.

“Some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.”

The footpath has had years to be packed down into toughness. The more it’s been walked over, the more unyielding it’s gotten. Every step has made it harder, every day has tamped it down just a little bit more. It’s hard.

Maybe you know someone like that.

The hard, hard road doesn’t feel the need to give way for seeds. It doesn’t bend. It knows what it wants to accept, and anything else bounces off into the ditch of indifference.

Hard roads don’t want to hear anything that challenges their assumptions or threatens to change their minds. That stuff gets bounced right out. They have their rules; they know what’s what. There is only one reasonable side to any argument—theirs. There is only one interpretation of scripture—theirs. There is only one solution to any social ill. (Can you guess which one it is?) Getting soft only creates people who compromise.

It just gets you hurt.

Yet Jesus has no use for the hard roads. He knows no true kingdom values will grow there. Not until they are tilled up, plowed and furrowed and deeply dug to allow new seed to grow. When he met the Pharisees’ certainty that they had the correct answers to all of life, he didn’t meet it gently. The worst place we can be is one where we have closed our ears to other ideas—because then we’ve closed our ears to the Holy Spirit’s potential call. Ears, hearts, soil—it’s all the same here. Keep them open and soft for the Spirit’s work.

Hard soiled hearts have to break in so many places to allow them to be vulnerable to the seed and sun and rain God has for them.

We cannot tell good stories unless we’re willing to face our hardness.

As a kid, I responded to being an actual, real-life Ferdinand (the bull who preferred to sit alone and smell flowers) with deep cynicism and sarcasm. Oh yes, you’d better believe I could do sarcasm as an eight-year-old. I didn’t get this good without years of practice. Also, I learned years later the secrets of the INFJ door slam.

I pushed others away before they could declare me too weird for words and push me away. Rejection as a preemptive social strike became my modus operandi. I wasn’t very big or very popular, but I was strategic enough to know good warfare tactics.

Except human community is not built on warfare models.

God did a lot of work on my stubborn heart in order to make tillable, plantable soil out of it. Sometimes, that work broke my heart clean open. That openness, though, was where I began to heal and dip my toes in the open water of vulnerability.

I got hurt. But it didn’t kill me, and I found it was better than being hard.

Jesus’ words can’t enter a heart that’s defending itself from invasion. His pleas that we put others above ourselves, show mercy as our default, forgive completely, ask forgiveness, and start over—they can’t find fertile ground in hard hearts that won’t yield to the soft foot of understanding. We have no worthwhile story to tell without vulnerable hearts.

Go ahead. Stop hardening up. Plow deep. Allow him to plant seeds for a story that’s unique to you.

You’re a great storyteller in the making.

Photo credit: Jill Richardson