George Bowers Sr.: Picking lessons from tomatoes

George Bowers Sr.

Praise God for tomatoes! They are one of my favorite parts of summertime and certainly at the top of my list of veggie preferences. Once August arrives, those hard crunchy ones from the produce aisles can finally be swapped out for real ones from the garden!

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve dearly loved juicy tomatoes topped with a little salt and pepper. Put a thick slice between two pieces of bread spread liberally with peanut butter and mayo, and you have a feast unequaled by palace chefs.

Although Europeans first thought tomatoes were poisonous, they soon learned to appreciate these Central American natives and began cultivating them back home. That was long before anyone knew of their cancer reducing antioxidants or the high levels of vitamins and minerals they contained. Today there are hundreds of varieties to choose from and I’ve recently enjoyed my first black tomato and am now growing a white variety on my deck, thanks to the generosity of some friends.

The ongoing debate about whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables is a waste of time since both factions can claim victory. Tomatoes are technically fruits using botanical criteria, but are considered vegetables for culinary purposes. You can quibble about these trifles all day long provided I get to eat the evidence.

Tomatoes are also a tasty component in many other foods including pizza, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, salad, ketchup, soup, juice, salsa, chili, and many more. It takes but little examination of the ingredients of our groceries to realize just how versatile this little red gem is.

Except for those used in salads and sandwiches, however, most tomatoes must endure a rather excruciating process before we can benefit from them. Prior to their appearance as either star or supporting actress in many dishes, tomatoes must be boiled, mashed, pealed, crushed, and strained. I well remember my mom using her Foley Food Mill to extract the seeds and skins in making her delicious homemade ketchup and juice that she canned for our enjoyment long after the frost killed those blessed plants.

Although these special gifts from God have no choice in the matter, imagine if they did. Imagine if tomatoes refused the rigorous processes required to make them useful. Imagine if they quarreled with the cook or complained to the chef about such harsh and unkind treatment. Imagine if they had the will and ability to resist and opt out of such seemingly cruel and painful processes. Instead of becoming blessings to their gardeners, chefs and eventual consumers, they would simply rot away providing no benefit to anyone. Such behavior would certainly get them excluded not only from main dishes, but from gardens and farms all over the world.

So too our gardener has plans for us that are beyond our understanding. When he allows painful experiences to crush our hearts, mash our dreams, and boil our emotions, he often does so to peel away that which hinders us from achieving our potential. These processes also have a way of straining out personality components such as pride and selfishness which decrease our usefulness and palatability.

Unlike the humble tomato, each of us does have a self-will that can resist and even refuse the father’s proven methods. In fact, we can, and sometimes do, not only complain and argue with him, but aggressively fight against the one who is at work preparing us, not for temporary preservation, but for eternal glory in his heaven.

As we enjoy the summertime tomatoes and their many products, let’s willingly submit to our gardener. Instead of struggling against him, let’s surrender to the one who has not only planted, tended, and grown us, but who has picked and chosen us for his holy purposes. He knows what he’s doing.

Summer blessings, George

George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books,  including his devotional collection, “Blessings.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.