I’m almost embarassed to be writing about gardening as a spiritual metaphor because it’s become something of a cliche, but with Paul’s words to the Corinthians in mind, “We are fools for the sake of Christ,” (1 Cor 4:10) I’ll saunter on.
The backyard of the house I’ve lived in for the past ten years has a lot of shade; it also floods during springtime most years because of the heavy rains that usually occur in April and May. And so for years, there have been all kinds of swampish things growing on the far edge of the backyard. Some are nice: ferns, hosta, Solomon’s seal, and moss. Others are not so nice: the plants I can’t really name because they’re just weeds. (The definition of a weed: anything you don’t want in your garden or yard.)
The first five years, I didn’t do anything about the backyard, focusing instead on the front yard and the fact that the backyard was OK enough. But about five years ago I began in earnest to clean things up and create a more intentional garden in the back. It was really tough going at first, and took a force of will not to be overwhelmed or discouraged by the sheer amount of work. Many of the weeds were too tough to pull out by the roots, so I’d cut them down to nothing. That actually did the trick for most of the summer, but then they grow back again the next. Ultimately, it was days of work in an area that was damp and buggy and not very much fun to crawl around in.
After five years, however, it seems I’m getting the best of the weeds. Rather than days worth of work this year, it took me four hours on a beautiful sunny day to clean out the unwanted “stuff.” The insidious plants are still there, but not as prolific as they once were. And the more desirable plants I’ve been putting back there — more ferns, a big rambling bush with bright yellow flowers that is self-propagating, lilies, a shrub oak, ivy — are starting to overtake the weeds so there are less and less to cut back each year.
I couldn’t help but think (maybe because it was Sunday) that building my backyard garden is like spiritual practice. We keep working on cutting back the undesirable part of our lives — the sin, if you will — even though it never really goes away. But by adding more and more of what we need to come into a closer union with God — with a whole lot of work plus patience, practice, perseverance, and faith — the wonder and beauty of who we are as God’s creatures starts to take over. Well worth the time and effort, I think.
photo credit: SharonKennedy@photostock.com