I was weeding in my sorely neglected vegetable garden today, a garden that has graced my backyard for all 5 summers I have lived in this house. Every fall, I have new hopes that I bury in the dark dirt, but each spring, the weeds of frustration or despair or anger creep back in. Some years, like this one, new weeds crop up. There is no evidence of their origin, yet here they are. It is a taunt against my sporadic tending- you will never keep us at bay; we can grow anywhere, and faster than you can dig and rake and hoe. The most tenacious of them sometimes make me feel as though I am not a gardener at all. If I were a gardener, my garden would boast clean dirt rows and neat green shoots. I consider giving in, but if I see even one little bud or blossom of promise, I can convince myself to fight the weeds again.
My life, and yours, likely, are much like my vegetable garden. We carefully plant ideas and hopes and plans, everything we will be and do, all that we value and treasure. Yet every spring, nay- every day, the weeds come back. Dissension with a coworker, unfulfillment in a marriage, fear of the future, judgment of others, regret and shame of the past. We pull and pull, but the weeds are tough. I’ve always secretly admired the tenacity of weeds- beautiful flowers are so easy to destroy, but weeds do not give up the fight. And sometimes, a new weed crops up. We didn’t even see it taking root. It evidences itself in inward, then outward, biases, in misunderstandings and dislikes, and for some, eventually in anger and even violence. We may be caught unaware by the weeds. A neighbor looks over the fence, pointing and identifying, wow, I’ve never seen a thistle that big! Ashamed, we start to pull, but that thistle has rooted itself firmly. We are going to have to dig deep to rid the garden of that one.
The process of weeding is perpetual and purposeful. It is daily tilling of the soil, watching for tiny strongholds and uprooting them. Yet the repetition of the action is the promise that the plants we have sowed so diligently will grow and thrive. Perhaps that is what I actually like about keeping a garden- it is a practical action with a visible reward. Sowing literary knowledge into my students does not always guarantee fruition, at least not in the ways I may expect or plan. Sowing kindness through volunteering is fulfilling, but there is not always a visible return. Even tending to my internal garden and weeds does not always ensure my best response, my ability to lay down myself, or my willingness to see my own flaws and uproot them.
This spring, the metaphorical garden feels so full of weeds that I have moments I despair of any growth of sustenance at all. One weed is pulled only for another to spring up. The roots are ages old, an underground system of tangled history. But, one tiny green shoot reminds me that gardening is a constant task, not a hobby for the laissez-faire. We can tend to our rows, teach our friends and students and children to tend theirs, and so on. Whether the sun is beating on our backs or the rain is pounding on the windows, a garden will not wait. For what we sow, we surely shall reap, as the saying goes. Or as Galatians warns, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (6:9) We either tend to the weeds, or we are overtaken. So we must put in the daily rooting out of evil and tending to good, with the promise that a harvest of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of love, of hope is the potential in each green little moment that is planted.