When Faith Seems Fruitless: A Lesson from Frog and Toad

The kingdom of God, Christ said, “is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how” (Mark 4:26-29). 

The phrase “he knows not how” troubles me; I want results. I long to see my loved ones flourishing in the faith. I long to see our bitter, violent culture transformed. 

Scattering seeds of Christ’s love feels futile after years of prayer, conversation and acts of love. And I must admit, my failures to love my family, friends and enemies contribute to the problem.

It all seems like very hard work. 

But I believe in kingdom mysteries all the same. I believe in a God who loves souls far more than I do, who endured violence and knows its terror, who weeps at death and is the only one with power to transform it. I need to remember this truth when my faith seems fruitless.

Once upon a time, a friendly Frog and a fretful Toad charmed me out of my despair with a lesson I continue to contemplate.

“The Garden,” a chapter in Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together, lifted my gloom by unexpectedly reframing the parable of Sower and the Seed. 

Frog and Toad, the companions in Lobel’s beloved story series, are an unlikely pair. Frog is tall, smooth, green and cheerful. Toad is short, bumpy, brown and grumpy. Frog is the ideal friend, but Toad is more endearing because he’s more like us. The tales of their developing friendship reveal profound truths about willpower, courage, humility and forgiveness. 

“The Garden” begins with Frog tending a plot in his yard. Toad drops by and admires it, wishing that he, too, had a garden.

“It is very nice,” Frog acknowledges, “But it was hard work.”

The always generous Frog offers Toad a handful of seeds for a garden of his own. 

Toad rushes home, plants his seeds, orders them to grow and paces up and down.

“Now, seeds, start growing!” he demands.

Nothing happens.

Head lowered to the ground, Toad ups the volume, shouting, “NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!”

But seeds, of course, do not sprout on command.

Hearing the commotion, Frog arrives on the scene and diagnoses Toad’s problem: his poor seeds are afraid to grow.

“Leave them alone for a few days,” Frog advises. “Let the sun shine on them. Let the rain fall on them. Soon your seeds will start to grow.”

Lobel’s illustrations are hilarious in this section. Toad reads aloud to his seeds. He sings over them and, in the noble pose of a maestro, even plays the violin for his seeds. Despairing and exhausted, he finally falls asleep.

Frog comes by later and rouses Toad, pointing his friend to the green sprouts now pushing through the soil.

Ever the curmudgeon, Toad remarks only that “It was very hard work.”

Perhaps you feel like Toad? I know I do. When I scatter my seeds I want results right now: a few more faith-friendly questions perhaps, if not a prodigal’s conversion. A heart softened by something I said or did would be nice.

When nothing happens, I press too hard and talk too much in an effort to produce something for God in my own strength.

This faith life, I mutter, is “very hard work.”

“The Garden” seems more in tune with Jesus, who assured his friends that in the kingdom of God, seeds sprout and grow without our knowing how.

Frog and Toad reveal my folly. 

My seeds may be afraid to grow.

But if I’ve shared my faith in love and trust, if I’m open to changing myself (a lowered volume? a little more reading, friendship and music perhaps?), I can prayerfully rest, secure in the knowledge that God’s sun and rain will fall on the seeds I’ve sown in his name.

“As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up,” Scripture assures us (Isaiah 61:11), “so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all nations.”

He’s working even while I sleep.

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You might also like Sparrowfare’s Counteracting the Big Me with Two Frogs and a Toad and Reclaiming Enchantment with The Lost Words.

Arnold Lobel reads his charming tales in The Frog and Toad Audio Collection. Delightful sound effects increase the pleasure in this recording perfect for listening on the road with children.

Photos by Jonathan Kemper and Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash and Mircea Ploscar on Pixabay.

2 thoughts on “When Faith Seems Fruitless: A Lesson from Frog and Toad

  1. Good one! I’m sure that you have planted many seeds of Faith and have made a tremendous difference in many lives.

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