As far as gardeners go, I’m a bad one. My vegetable plot is about the size of a double-car garage. From my kitchen window, it looks spectacular. Plummy green fronds poke above the rows. Fiery orange nasturtiums cascade along the fence, and sunflowers wave down from above.

But despite three months of weeding and planting and watering, my plot has produced only a few dinners’ worth of green beans, eight edible tomatoes, a handful of zucchini and a row of kale so tough even the insects won’t eat it.

One reason is that, come spring, I get so excited about the variety of plants I want to grow that I waste precious space trying to squeeze them all in rather than giving enough space to those that I know are well suited for my garden and my gardening routines. Another is that once my plants are in, I tend to forget about them, other than weeding and watering (once the weeds overgrow the rows or the plants begin to wilt).

Last, I’m a total failure at keeping out pests, such as the deer, which devoured my chard and pumpkins, and the chickens and slugs, which gorged themselves on my tomatoes. Oh, from a distance, my garden looks good, but as a result of my poor caretaking it produces little.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with looks – from teeth-whitening strips and anti-wrinkle creams to wearing the latest styles and driving the newest cars. Sadly, people who identify as Christian often display the same self-obsession. Rather than producing what Galatians 5:22-23 calls the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), we become sidetracked by how good we look while we are being kind or loving or patient or good. The result? We may look good to others, but our lives will produce little fruit.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. So, here are a few tips I’ve learned from my garden. To be productive, I must wisely manage the time and abilities God has granted me rather than trying to squeeze everything in. I must faithfully tend the responsibilities that are mine to look after (rather than ignoring them or wasting my time tending those that aren’t), and I must vigilantly keep out the pests that would destroy my work.

Nowhere does this list include anything about looking good. In fact, the harder I work and the more fruit God is producing through me, the more attention people are likely to pay to God rather than to me. “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them,” explains I Samuel 16:7 (NLT). “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”   

So, beware of that which looks good but produces little. Ever admire a perfect flower only to discover that it was plastic? That which looks good but produces little is likely to be the most artificial. I say this as a warning to myself as well: Even a rotten tomato is better than a plastic one, because the rot can be cut out.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Lantern Hill Light Parade, the fourth book in her Lantern Hill Farm children’s picture-book series, is available now. Connect at