In the fall I saw a play on the passage of the 19th Amendment titled “Winter Wheat.” It followed the true story of how the passage of the amendment rested on Tennessee being the 36th state to ratify it (giving it 2/3 of states). Harry Burn, a young (only 24) representative from East Tennessee initially planned to vote against the amendment. He wore the red rose that signified his opposition to ratification (a yellow rose signified suffrage). The vote in the state legislature looked to be tied. Burn received a letter from his mother urging him to change his vote; he did. With a quick “aye,” he changed the nation. He later said, “I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify…I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”
The title of the play comes from a quote by suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton who said, “I never forget that we are sowing winter wheat, which the coming spring will see sprout, and other hands than ours will reap and enjoy.” Stanton didn’t live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment. And I doubt she ever thought a young conservative in rural Tennessee would accomplish what she started.
Often we want to be the hero. We want to make the moving speech, the nation-changing vote, the final blow. We want to see our efforts change the world. But it takes a lot of people setting the stage, laying the foundation. And it's a long process. The majority of 35 other legislatures voted for suffrage before Burn did. Women were arrested, assaulted, and tortured for the cause before the amendment was even drafted. Most of the time, you don’t see the result of your work. You are just a part of a bigger movement.
There are Christians that focus on “saving souls.” Like a car salesman, it’s all about the numbers. They’ve brought X amount of people to Christ. But how could one even determine such a number? First, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings people to faith. Second, while Christians have a role and duty in spreading the faith, I don’t believe that one person is there for steps 1 through 10 of another’s faith journey.
Someone plants a seed. Someone else feeds that interest. Someone else is at the right place at the right time. The Spirit uses multiple people in several ways to help an individual’s journey. That person who planted the seed might never know that a seed was planted or that it resulted in harvest. And that’s ok, not to know. If you share the faith earnestly, focused on the Gospel and not the numbers, you will plant lots of seeds. It is not important that you’re there for the harvest, only that the harvest is reaped.
It’s an important lesson for two reasons. One, you cannot see yourself as the lone hero. You have a role in life, and maybe it will earn acclaim, and maybe it won’t. It is still important. Do something because it is right, not because you will be acknowledged for it. Two, sometimes you will lose. Your efforts, your movement, your people, your Church will fail. Evil will be stronger, swifter, more popular. But you must plow the hardened earth. Faith can grow in the most adverse environments.
Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, His name will continue to resound throughout the world.” We don’t all have the luxury of living in the moment of victory or in a post-war period of peace. Some of us live during the war, during the plague, during the persecution. We are unsure of how long the suffering will last. We have no guarantee that we will see good triumph over evil, only the hope that ultimately, evil will be defeated. And so we continue to resist it. We plant seeds so that future generations will have a harvest, “and other hands than ours will reap and enjoy.”