As I was weeding the garden this morning, I found myself mulling over one of the great mysteries of my childhood. Why do we pull up beautiful plants just because they are ‘weeds’? Aren’t bunches of dandelions – a child’s delight – a loving gift that is treasured by Moms throughout the world? So why do we regard them as unwelcome guests when they show up unannounced in our lawns and garden beds?
First of all, we need to be clear about one thing. Weeds aren’t all bad. Not only can they be very beautiful, some are even edible – and delicious! (Think of those yummy dandelion greens!) Others – such as St. John’s wort and milk thistle – even have valuable medicinal properties. But weeds also have a dark side. They grow in places where they’re not wanted. They suck up a lot of water, and they steal soil nutrients from grass and other garden plants. If left unchecked, they can choke out and kill other, more desirable plants. Some weeds are even poisonous. Obviously, despite their beauty, some plants are not what they might first appear to be.
That got me thinking about life in general. Our interior lives are a kind of ‘spiritual garden’ where many different kinds of things grow – things that are good, but also things that are not so good. At the centre is our faith – the Word of God planted in our hearts. We want it to sprout up and flourish, like that tiny little mustard seed that once grown becomes a tree, “so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:32). But if we are going to grow and mature – if we are going to become the people that God created us to be – we need to actively water and nourish our faith. Prayer, reflecting on Scripture, and participating in the sacraments are powerful ways to nurture the gardens of our hearts – whether on vacation or at other times of the year.
But at the same time, we need to be careful. There are things that can creep into our gardens uninvited. (Remember the Garden of Eden?) At first, these things may seem beautiful and good. But if we allow them to grow in power – if we make them the focus of our lives instead of the means to draw closer to God – we may find that they take over, that they are ‘weeds’ in disguise. It may take us some time before we even realize that they aren’t the ‘good’ we seek.
For example, a healthy desire to eat well can turn into an obsessive (and disordered) desire to control our physical appearance. Or we might tell ourselves that we work crazy, long hours in order to provide a better living for our families – when in fact, it actually satisfies a deep need within ourselves that doesn’t have anything to do with their well being. Hobbies and other enjoyable activities – even something as simple (and healthy!) as wanting to be more active to improve our health – might begin to take up more space in our lives than is ideal. It’s all about balance. Most things are not good or bad in and of themselves, but we might need to check our priorities if we find that they are distracting us from the truly important stuff in life – things like nurturing our faith, spending time with our families, and doing the best job we can at work or at home. Left unchecked, self-centred desires can choke out the very people and beliefs we hold most dear.
Summer is a great time to take stock of the gardens of our hearts. And thankfully, when it comes to the spiritual life, we don’t need to worry about breaking out the sunscreen. All we have to do is to ask God – our spiritual ‘Sun’ – to illuminate the dark corners of our lives. Is there anything there that is in need of light, water, or nourishment? Is there anything that needs to be rooted out? Whatever God reveals, we can trust that He will show us what will bring about our most beautiful, most fruitful garden ever. Happy gardening!
– Sharon van der Sloot