In the late 90’s at the college in England where I worked in the Development Office, I was asked to ‘find money for a new boathouse’. For a small Christian college in England that spent most of its life as a ‘vicar factory’, this wasn’t the easiest of assignments. When I started researching the boathouse – and more importantly – its location on the banks of the River Wear, I discovered something was looming that was of far greater importance. The college sits on top of a gorge dug out by a glacier at the end of the ice age. In fact, the entire peninsula (upon which also sits the famous Durham Cathedral), sits high up from the river. The buildings at the top of the east bank are mostly owned by colleges of the University of Durham and the Cathedral. (Some of the terraced houses were also still privately owned.) The buildings are backed up against the castle wall – a medieval structure that starts at the castle on one end of the peninsula and snakes its way around the entire peninsula. Below it were the ruins of 18th century hanging gardens with their own smaller supporting walls, icehouses, and walking paths – all in various states of decay.
It all seemed very romantic, and so I thought it would be a good idea to see if we could pull together the different owners and attempt to raise money to restore the gardens. Along the way, surveys were done, and we were made aware that ignoring your back garden is actually quite dangerous. Not only were the supporting walls decaying, but also the trees were of the same age and starting to die off. The result was the increasing danger of landslip. Ignore the back gardens another 20 years, and some of the castle wall and the buildings up against them could start to disappear down the banks. (The Cathedral has monitoring in place to guard against such movement, but the eastern half of the peninsula didn’t.)
This made me think recently of our own ‘back gardens’. It can be very easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and not realize that the back garden is about to demand your attention in an unsavory way. The back garden can be – for instance – your spiritual life, your children, your marriage, your budget, your unwillingness to face your own mortality and write your will. It is usually something that we are aware is there, but don’t really want to look at it too closely. It appears to be doing okay. Maybe it isn’t okay. And just maybe you need to face that reality and dig it up, turn it over, start afresh. Is your spouse really happy or are you just assuming it? Do you know how a long retirement will be financed? Have you ignored the roof of your house so long that rot is setting in? Are you filling your emptiness with things rather than with your creator? Are you filling up your ‘to do’ list to help you feel important? Take a moment to consider what your back garden is, and be courageous enough to go tend that garden.