When spring finally creeps back into my corner of the world, I will do what many others do and plant a garden. For several years now, I have planted a vegetable garden in my backyard. It’s not particularly large, just a little garden so that I can teach my children about sowing and reaping. It’s a great way to bond with them and enjoy the wonder of God’s creation. Plus, we get tomatoes.

The process always begins in the same way, with my husband dragging a mini-greenhouse up the basement steps for me. The greenhouse sits inside the enclosed porch on the back of the house, in the sunniest spot we have. Sometime in early March, I plant a variety of vegetable seeds, including heirloom tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant. There’s something spellbinding to me about sowing these tiny seeds into egg cartons filled with soil because eventually, they become something my family can eat.

I watch them carefully, thrilled when I see the first tiny flashes of green breaking through the soil to become new plants. And yes, I totally take pictures of my “babies”. There’s just something so exciting about growing your very own things and tending them until they bear fruit.

In order to ensure that enough plants germinate, it’s common practice to put 2-3 seeds in the soil when sowing. That way, if a seed is a dud, there is a good chance that at least one of the others will sprout.

The thing is, sometimes they all sprout. They’re adorable, all nestled in their little egg cartons, straining towards the sunshine. However, once they get bigger, they are vying for nutrients, water and sunlight. If I don’t thin out the seedlings and leave just one healthy one in the pot, none of them will thrive correctly.

God has taught me many lessons in the garden, but these seedlings in particular have shown me a spiritual truth year after year. When I allow too much to crowd into my schedule, my mind, my heart – I soon discover that I’m not thriving as I should. When too much is vying for my attention or affection, I simply can’t give my very best.

The art of saying no has become a powerful tool in my arsenal of living a simple life filled with joy. A friend of mine recently texted me that she needed help editing a 30 page paper she was writing for her graduate program. The trouble is, she texted me on a Saturday and it was due only a few days later on Thursday. I know her intent was to pay me for my time. My goal is to become a full time writer/editor and this would have not only been great practice, but a tiny step towards my dream.

I told her that I was sorry, but that I could not edit her paper. The week ahead was going to be busy and I knew that by accepting this task, I would be overwhelmed. To take this on in addition to my work and family commitments, I wouldn’t do my best for anyone if I accepted. It turns out that this was a wise decision. My daughter and I both came down with a virus and stayed home sick during part of the time my friend needed me to be working on the paper. 

Certainly, there are many other examples I could cite of the “thinning principle”, including saying no to spending money on certain things, not attending every social function and so-on. I encourage you to fix your eyes on Jesus, giving Him your best and then allowing everything else to fill in around that. Thin out the overflow by graciously saying no. Since I’ve started living this way, I have been more peaceful and joyful. Less really is more. 

“You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest.”

-Exodus 34:21