Last week my spouse and I closed on and got keys for our first home. The seller was long gone. Not being able to stand the Minnesota climate, he moved to Northern California. The yard of our new home is landscaped beautifully, but in his absence the weeds had grown to hip height and spread quickly into lush bunches. I spent a chunk of time on Saturday crouched over in the warm sun, pulling weeds and chucking them over my shoulder into the driveway. This monotonous, rhythmic activity lends itself to spiritual reflection, which I thoroughly enjoyed. None of my thoughts were especially profound, but as someone who strives for gentle, continual growth and improvement, the activity of pulling weeds became a metaphor of spiritual renewal work right before my very eyes.
The priest at my high school, before offering the sacrament of reconciliation, would always talk about the importance of doing spiritual check-ins as often as we do physical check-ups. The work of sifting through the spirit, looking for light and weeding out darkness takes time, intentionality, and sometimes help from other people who can offer expertise and objectivity. Here are some thoughts I had while weeding in the garden that also pertain, I believe, to weeding in the soul:
– Some weeds are pretty. It was harder than I thought it would be to identify the weeds. I had to double check with Dan that I was pulling the right roots. Invasive species can disguise themselves as flowers if left to grow and thrive for too long.
– Pulling the weed without it breaking was easier and more efficient if I took the time to search for the base of the stalk. Identifying the entry point before acting helped me get at the root of the problem.
– Finesse and strategy are a good paring for effective weed pulling. The weeds were so tall and thick, it was tempting to grab huge handfuls and just yank forcefully. This would have been a quicker way for the yard and garden to appear weed free, but the roots of the weeds would have remained healthy. I had to find the right amount of weeds to pull at the same time. Often this meant one weed at a time- no shortcuts. The roots often came out easier, too, when I used finesse instead of force. A little restraint in the process set me up for longer term success.
– Pulling the weeds at the root was fairly easy because the soil was soft. Minnesota had a very rainy June. When I was getting at the root of the weeds, then, the soil was soft and gave way easily. A month of rain had prepped the foundation for the weeding process to go smoothly. The yard was ready for the task at hand.
-I won’t really know how I did weeding for some time. The yard looks better, but I will see in a few weeks how many weeds I pulled superficially and how many I got at the root. Either way, the yard will take continual oversight and attention if I want the plants and grass to thrive.
At the end of the afternoon, my back and hamstrings were tight. My fingers were sore, but I felt revived. The yard looked fresh, clean and new. The landscape was more easily navigated and looked more inviting. The plants now had more room to breathe and grow. It was hard work, but good work. It was rewarding. I’ve heard that there is a correlation with gardening and happiness. I can see why. I left my time in the yard peacefully tired and reflective. And it inspired me to keep getting down on my knees to look for the roots of the weeds inside of myself that were choking who God is willing me to become.