Friday, June 12, 2015


I spent a lot of time digging today.  The front yard of the house needs extensive rehabilitation after a large tree was removed last year.  Half of the front yard was covered almost completely in thistles, dandelions, and clover.

You can't just pull up dandelions and thistles; their roots are deep and tough. You've got to dig them out, and dirty feet, sweaty brow, and tired back should be expected.  Clover is sort of a 50/50 deal.  Sometimes it comes up pretty easily, but sometimes you've got to dig.  It also blends in relatively well. Its short and green, and it can be easy to convince yourself that it isn't really a problem.  But if you ignore it too long--because, you tell yourself, it isn't actually a big deal--it will take over, and soon dominated by clover.

Then there are daisies.  There's some debate out there over whether they're weeds or flowers.  If it helps you to know where I stand on the issue, daisies were one of the primary flowers at my wedding.  But it isn't lost on me that my grandpa the rancher paid my mom for every daisy plant she got rid of.  I think, in the right context and quantity, daisies can be a delight and add a bit of beauty. You have to make sure you keep them in check, however, or they'll use up all your resources and choke out the things that provide genuine sustenance.

As I dug up weeds today and accidentally damaged a few small patches of grass in the process, I had a thought I've had many times in life, starting when I was a small child helping with our family's vegetable garden: it hardly seems fair that its so easy to rip up the good stuff, and so hard to remove the greedy weeds.  But I think its a fair lesson in reality.  The good traits and qualities, all the things we want to have and be, take cultivation and care.  They're easily choked out, especially at first.  It takes cultivation, care, and commitment to have the good stuff grow, and to keep the counterproductive and destructive things at bay.  When the weeds flourish, its a sign of neglect or misdirection.  And if we get lazy, stop being vigilant in pursuing good soil and weeding regularly, those good things can be overwhelmed and pushed out surprisingly quickly.  That may be a hard reality, but the natural man is what he is, and kicking against the pricks gets you nothing but sore toes.

Some flaws and missteps are like those thistles:  sticking out like a sore thumb, clearly prickly, obvious to us and everybody else that they're a problem.  We usually start there, digging deeply to try to get rid of the most painful problems first.  Most people manage to be patient and kind with us in this stage, because, at some point or another, each of us has found out what it feels like to have our hands torn up trying to dig out those thistles.  Its slow, its tiring, and it can make a terrible mess.  Seeing us struggle with those things inspires compassion in most decent people.

A lot of our personal weaknesses are like the dandelions.  For a little while, while everything is bright and sunny yellow, we may be able to convince ourselves that they aren't actually problems.  Maybe they really are flowers and not weeds.  But if we fail to address them quickly, soon the seeds of their destructiveness are flying everywhere, taking over our lives, and all too often drifting into our neighbors yards and starting to choke out their lawn, too.  At this point, often times our neighbors struggle to be patient with us.  Any fool could've seen the problem was there, they think.  Its not like it was hiding, and now I've got to clean up this mess that I didn't do anything to create.  Still, others do manage to be patient with us.  Everybody has their down times, they think--its not like I've never had dandelions.  I've been taking care of my lawn, so I'll just spread a little Weed N Feed and everything will be fine, no big deal.  We don't get to pick the reactions of others.  Maybe the second one is the more Christlike one.  We can say the first person should know better and that its their moral obligation to be patient with us--and that may, in fact be true. The irony in us saying that is that, obviously, then we should know that its our moral obligation to be patient with their impatience, especially if we've caused them a headache in the first place.

We often expect demand kindness, patience and non-judgmental behavior from others, then criticize them for failing to live up to our expectations, and fail to see the irony.

Which leads me to the clover.  Clover isn't obvious and painful like thistles, or glaring and fast-moving like dandelions.  Its roots aren't as deep as either;  rather, its roots are wide.  Its similar in color to healthy grass, and its easy to not notice it at first--our neighbors may not notice it all.  Our lives are often full of shallow, creeping behaviors that don't do us a lot of explicit harm--that, in fact, may be known only to us and those closest to us--but that prevent us from living as fully and as deeply as we otherwise could.  We often even like these behaviors--we may have convinced ourselves that they're an integral part of who we are.  But deep down, some part of us knows we keep them only because they're easier, or because our vanity is wounded by the idea that we may need to give up these "little" things that we don't think are hurting us or anyone.  Slowly, but quite surely, they can creep along, taking over more and more of who we should be.  Sooner or later, if we're to be the people the Lord would have us be, we're going to have to pull them out and let them go.  But they blend in enough that we can go years, or even decades, convincing ourselves that they aren't really weeds at all.

And then there are the daisies.  They can be beautiful.  Often they are things that, not only don't seem to be a problem, but that others compliment us on.  We all like to be noticed and appreciated.  But if our self-worth gets wrapped up in things that are ultimately ephemeral, we can easily end up allowing our lives to be overrun with things of little value while things of true substance wither away from a lack of resources and cultivation.

It is an affliction of human nature to get lost in other people's weeds. It isn't our job to clean them up, so we aren't overwhelmed by them, and pointing them out helps to distract us from the hard work of digging up the noxious weeds in our own gardens.  So if you find yourself neck-deep in someone else's weeds telling them where to dig, its probably time to turn and tend to your own dandelions and clover.  And if someone who isn't supposed to be there is pointing out your weeds, don't retort in kind;  get to work.  Because no matter how uncomfortable the message or how inappropriate the messenger, if its true you should address it.  You will gain more than you can imagine by having the humility to accept and act upon truth even when it comes in the most annoying or uncomfortable way possible.  Even if he's being a bonehead and has no business commenting, if he's right, listen and get to work.  If you're lucky, responding with humility and kindness may even shock him into silence and get him weeding his own garden.  A humble example is always exponentially more powerful than an angry/annoyed rant.

And yes, I see the irony.

No comments: