As I type these words, sourdough bread is rising in the kitchen. My husband and I have been making our own bread for 12 years. In the spring we decided we were ready to try a new challenge: sourdough. So we ordered a starter from King Arthur—because theirs was started in 1789, the year the American Constitution was signed, and I am geeky enough to think it’s super cool that I have something that old living in my refrigerator.

But having a sourdough starter is a bit like having a cat. It’s mostly self-sufficient, but you still have to feed and water it. Hence this weekly routine:

Yesterday, I pulled my storage starter out of the fridge and divided it. Half I fed with flour and water and returned to the refrigerator. The other half I fed with flour and water and let rise on the counter. Later in the day I fed it again. Before bed I put it in the fridge. This morning I pulled it out of the fridge. And now, I am turning it into bread: I just finished mixing still more flour and water (and a little salt) with the sourdough starter.

Sourdough

In an hour, I will give the slightly risen dough two business letter turns (think of folding a business letter in thirds, and then doing so again) and let it rise for another hour. Then I will rinse and repeat. After that second rise and the third pair of business letter turns, I will let the dough rise for 5 or 6 hours, until it’s doubled. Then I will shape it into rounds and let it rise for another 3 or 4 hours. Then I will bake it.

Every time I make this bread, I think good grief, this is a lot of work. But when it comes out of the oven and I slice through its shattery exterior—sending crumbs of hot crust shooting like sparks all over the counter—and then through its soft, chewy center, and when I slather it with salted butter and especially when I bite into that slice of buttery sourdough goodness, well, I never think man that was a lot of work. I only think how good it tastes. And then I grab my knife and the butter and have a second slice. And maybe a third.

Obviously I think it was worth it because I go and do the whole 36 hour process again the next week.

My weekly sourdough making gives me a small and prosaic picture of my life with Christ. Growing in the knowledge and love of God takes effort. A lot of effort. And a lot of time, too. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of the effort and not seeing a whole lot of baked bread coming out of the spiritual oven, I think good grief, this is a lot of work. And I wonder if it’s worth it because I’m tired and the fruits of my efforts seem pretty slim, like sourdough that’s rising too slowly to see.

But just like the sourdough, something is happening, something small but growing, and eventually it becomes visible—always. Sometimes this takes a long, long time, much longer than the 36 hours of sourdough prep, but it always happens in the end, and I can look back and be oh so grateful that I stayed the course and didn’t quit. 

And of course, there are steps along the way when I do glimpse progress, as when I can see the flour and starter of my life get watered by the Spirit and kneaded together to make a lovely satiny dough where before there was only dryness or glop.

Or when I show up in the kitchen after five hours and there is the dough in the bowl, risen all the way to the top and it’s clear that something was happening in all those seconds and minutes after all, even though I couldn’t see it and thought it wasn’t.

dough

The past year and a half have been at once some of the most exhausting and also the most exhilarating months of my life—because I am growing. From day to day I’ve not seen much growth—and some days I feel like I’m shrinking! (Most days I could not figure out why I was so tired; I could not see the growth, so I did not know it was happening, but however interior the work of growth may be, it is still work, and work requires energy.) But over the course of many months, I began to see that God was at work after all, that my new habits of thought and being were (and are) bearing fruit by His grace and with His help.

I have shed much of my habitual anxiety. I know more and more freedom from anger. My desire to be scornful is slowly withering, and I have compassion on people I would formerly have denounced as fools or worse. I pray for people I don’t like, and not in the smug superior way I used to, but genuinely. I don’t do any of this perfectly. At all. Some days I do it very, very badly. But even so, I can sometimes glimpse the person I might become if I keep to this path. I can see that I am becoming a different kind of person than I used to be.

Spiritual growth is hard work. Far harder than making sourdough, that’s certain, but making sourdough has become a metaphor for me.

Making bread each week I am reminded that my smallness is a gift, for the kingdom of God starts small, like those particles of yeast I cannot see, and grows into something beautiful and nourishing and delightful.

Making bread each week I am reminded that working toward a goal with patience and perseverance (“pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”) yields good things—and is absolutely worth the effort involved.

Making bread each week I am reminded that Jesus is the Bread of the World
—and that having Him I have all I need.

Each week, my Lord is made known to me in the making of the bread.

K. C. Ireton / Posts / Blog

K.C. Ireton is the author of two books and the mother of four children. An avid reader, she believes that a day without books is a day without meaning or joy. She also likes food, especially when her husband prepares it. Vive le weekend!

  • SimplyDarlene
    SimplyDarlene
    http://www.simplydarlene.com

    Kimberlee – for real with the 1789 starter? Whoa Nellie! Because of the intimidation factor, I’ve used sourdough more for pancakes than bread loaves. But, you give me hope!

    Thank you for sharing this piece – I am blessed by your metaphor, storytelling, and attention to detail.

    November 2nd, 2016 0:57
    Reply
    01
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      For real, Darlene! I’m so glad you’re as impressed as I am. If you’re really interested in making sourdough bread, I would strongly recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. (We named our starter Rose…)

      November 2nd, 2016 17:20
      Reply
      02
  • Susan
    http://www.susanmulder.wordpress.com

    What a beautiful message-and in my love language…bread! Though I can no longer enjoy it, (darn gluten) my imagination fills in the blanks for flavors and smells 😉 I love the metaphor you use and will be reminded of it when I make bread for the rest of my family!

    November 2nd, 2016 7:45
    Reply
    03
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      Oh Susan, I am so sorry you are unable to enjoy bread now. I think you are a very loving woman, making bread for the rest of your family when you can no longer eat it yourself!

      November 2nd, 2016 17:21
      Reply
      04
  • Katrina

    So funny that Susan (in a prior comment) mentioned the love language of bread – my husband jokes that bread, books, coffee, and cheese are my love languages 🙂
    The simplicity of your example as it relates to our Christian walks makes it all the more relevant, thank you.

    November 2nd, 2016 8:40
    Reply
    05
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      Thank you, Katrina. I wrote this as much for myself as for anyone–my weekly tasks too often feel burdensome, and it is helps me find joy and meaning in them when I “read” them metaphorically.

      November 2nd, 2016 17:23
      Reply
      06
  • Laura

    I too resonate with the bread metaphor. While I have never been brave enough to attempt sourdough, there is something about baking bread and the rising of it that is comforting. Your analogy brings that comfort to a deeper level. Thank you.

    November 2nd, 2016 8:46
    Reply
    07
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      Laura, I wasn’t brave enough to attempt sourdough till I’d been baking weekly loaves for a dozen years. It’s not as hard as it seems, I promise. Just time-consuming. And as I told Darlene, if you’re interested in giving sourdough a try, Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Bread Bible is indispensable. And I agree–rising dough is hopeful, somehow, full of promise.

      November 2nd, 2016 17:32
      Reply
      08
  • Jasmine Ryan
    http://divineorchestration.com

    There is something so alluring about the simple, methodical, making of the bread that simply can’t be rushed! While I only make bread once a year for my husband’s birthday, every time I do, I think of the Lord’s Prayer and how the toil of the daily bread is all but lost. We are so rushed by this world; it makes far more sense to make a trip to the grocery store than spend 36 HOURS making it. In the same way, it makes more sense to squeeze God into a slot in our day and check Him off a list than to fold, knead, press, and feed our faith and wait on the prize.

    But of course the metaphor continues: the slow, laborious prize is far more rewarding. Grateful for this practical, filling piece today, Kimberlee!

    November 2nd, 2016 12:50
    Reply
    09
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      Thank you, Jasmine! I so appreciate your pointing out the rushed nature of life in this world. I justify the time it takes to make sourdough because it tastes so much better than anything I’ve ever bought in a store–even a bakery! More important, though, I see it as an act of quiet defiance against our culture’s insane obsession with efficiency and speed. (But true confession: I’m nursing a cold this week, and only fed the starter on Monday, and didn’t make bread. So even I don’t manage sourdough baking/countercultural defiance every week!)

      November 2nd, 2016 17:36
      Reply
      10
  • Mary
    Mary
    http://www.marybonner.net

    Oh. My! This speaks to me in ways that I cannot begin to put in this comment, but much of it resonates with me. I love your writing. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    November 2nd, 2016 20:41
    Reply
    11
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      Mary, I’m honored and encouraged by your words. Thank you so much.

      November 3rd, 2016 17:53
      Reply
      12
  • Theresa Boedeker
    http://Theresaboedeker.com

    Beautiful. Love the bread and spiritual growth metaphor. Reading your piece flooded my mind with happy memories of making all our own bread for a year or two. It was hard work, but also fun and rewarding.

    November 3rd, 2016 10:56
    Reply
    13
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      I’m so glad my piece brought happy memories to mind, Theresa. Bless you for letting me know that!

      November 3rd, 2016 17:54
      Reply
      14
  • Jody Collins
    Jody Collins
    https://jodyleecollins.com/

    Oh, my friend, my smile is spread right across my face. What joy! I can hear you through this piece, loud and clear. Bread, growth, kingdom. Shaking my head at God’s goodness. (and SO intimidated by your skills. For reals.)

    November 3rd, 2016 11:10
    Reply
    15
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      Oh, Jody. You are so sweet, so good to me. My skills may intimidate you, but I’m glad I don’t. Your friendship is one of my most treasured assets!

      November 3rd, 2016 17:56
      Reply
      16
  • Elizabeth Marshall
    http://www.elizabethwmarshall.com

    I think I love everything you’ve ever written. Your voice will always be a favorite. This is particularly rich. Love sharing this space with you.

    November 4th, 2016 12:13
    Reply
    17
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://kimberleeconwayireton.net

      Thank you, Elizabeth! Your encouragement and affirmation mean more than you can possibly know.

      November 5th, 2016 13:59
      Reply
      18

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *