Casting Empty Nets

"Casting Empty Nets" by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB (

Via Pixabay (2015), CC0 Public Domain

It’s the fifth week of Lent and Palm Sunday is in a few days. Some of you have been following the daily readings in my book, Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, and will find the following excerpt on page 102. For the rest of you readers, I hope you’ll like it, too.

I see myself as a gardener, one whose core identity is tied to soil and seeds, and who is happiest when bare feet are touching earth and sod. I am a digger with calloused hands, broken nails, and patched, dirty jeans. I know what to do and what to say and how to interact within the framework of gardens.

But I am increasingly unsure of myself as I am uprooted from what is familiar. The increased discomfort of an arthritic spine, the result of an auto accident decades ago, has forced me to leave the work I have always loved. I can no longer do the physical work needed to maintain gardens and landscapes. In my own yard the daily four to six hours of toiling, weeding, and transplanting is now reduced. I can only work two or three twenty-minute sessions a couple times a week, and I have to avoid strenuous work like digging holes or pruning overhead branches with loppers. I abandoned greenhousing a couple of years ago.

I found it particularly challenging one recent summer to accept my new limitations. My gardens were so neglected that it looked as if no one lived at my house. Tall and rampant Lambsquarters and Marestail weeds were choking out perennials and shrubs. I was embarrassed by the slovenly appearance of my once pristine yard. Resignation was setting in as I contemplated calling friends to salvage my beloved plants, removing them to their gardens.

When my mind is busy and wanting action but my body indicates otherwise, it is a challenge to find a balance between being productive while quieting physical discomfort. Like the story of Simon from Luke’s Gospel, I keep going out into deep waters looking for a means of livelihood and pull in nothing but empty nets (Luke 5:1-11).

A certain amount of doubt or desperation creeps in when we repeatedly fail to adapt what is familiar to an unknown situation. Just like Simon, we move confidently out on to waters that have always provided for our needs only to find that there is nothing to be had.

It is within this self-doubt that Our Lord comes to us. Even though our failure to succeed was not due to lack of trying, He asks us to try again and leaves it up to us to choose to do as asked. Am I as willing as Simon, who was overworked and exhausted, to venture once again into deep waters? Am I ready to ask those who have gone with me before to this place of empty nets, to come and help again? Am I open to saying, “…we have worked hard…and caught nothing…but at your command I will lower the nets” and trust Jesus to provide?

I wonder what will become of my “Yes, Lord” as I trudge back to that place of non-fulfillment, back to gardens and soils and sod. How will my life change if I too am filled to overflowing with multiple gifts from God? Whose hands will help bring an unexpected bounty to shore?

Maybe my greatest fear isn’t the empty net at all, but the full one of success; the full net that redefines who I am as a gardener and the purpose of His gifts.


Copyright 2013, 2017 Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. Reprinted from Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent (Patheos Press)


About Author

Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB lives an eremitic life and is the author of Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, A Garden of Visible Prayer: Creating a Personal Sacred Space One Step at a Time, 2nd Edition, and A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. A freelance writer with a Benedictine spirituality, Margaret has a master’s degree in communications and is a Certified Greenhouse Grower, Advanced Master Gardener, liturgical garden consultant, and workshop/retreat leader.

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