When Nick and I bought our home, we had a fenced-in back yard for the first time in our married life. Think of the possibilities! I marvelled. I thought the paver patio and pathway were so lovely. I thought a raised bed seemed like a good idea and Nick, being the husband that he is, went to work for me one Saturday morning, building the frame and hauling loads of dirt to fill it.
Spring has this effect on me. Each spring, I am excited to get outside and clean up my beds, pulling weeds, clearing piles of rotting leaves and edging. The temperatures are warm and they thaw out my bones. The sun deposits its energy in me and I can go for hours, or until my back hurts so badly that its time for a shower. My kids toddle around and play. It feels like therapy after the long dark winter, and I soak it in.
The problem comes when summer arrives–with it, the punishing hot temperatures. I have trouble prioritizing my outside tasks when I have inside ones just as important–and I can do those in the air conditioning.
This year, with the primo summer growing conditions we’re having here in south-central PA, some areas of weeds grew to a startling height. I looked out my kitchen window (a side of the house we rarely visit from the outside) and realized I could see the tip-tops of weeds (and that window is probably eight feet off the ground). Recently when filling out my to-do list, I simply wrote the word “jungle” under Nick’s column–it was self explanatory. Around here, weeds are not Nick’s job. To put it bluntly–he hates gardening. But when they’re tree-like and I can’t yank them from the ground by grunt force, a sharp tool is required and it lands in Nick’s court. (He made quick work of it, and even spared my lillies).
The raised bed grew–we hadn’t even gotten around to planting it this year, but it grew anyway–with weeds in creative variety. Some sprawled out and covered massive areas. Others stayed in one place but grew deep into the dirt. Some were actually surprisingly beautiful. I watched them grow, observing them from my back porch. I knew the ground in that bed was hard and dry. While I might successfully pull their tops off, I would have to wait for rain to soften the dirt before I could get them by their roots. It was neither the day nor the time to stress about them. So they grew high, filling the bed entirely.
The paver patio and pathway too, because the previous owner laid them improperly, welcome weeds with the slightest encouragement of sunshine. The moist ground beneath the stones is a literal springboard for so many weeds. I struggled to keep up, and when the hot summer arrived, I surrendered all together, except a small area close to the house where my conscience continued the fight (but the children!–where will they walk?!)
Today, whether by random stroke of inspiration, or whatever, I realized it was mild enough outside to weed–and the soil was wet thanks to recent rainfall. You realize, I wasn’t anxiously watching the clouds. As far as I’m concerned, if I don’t get the weeds pulled, the snow will kill them and I will try again next year.
But I have guests coming this weekend and the weather forecast seems ideal for grilling out. But the weeds. So then I was resigned–just because I could tolerate seeing my own weeds didn’t mean I wanted to welcome friends to the jungle. I want to be real with my friends, but harboring mosquitoes isn’t exactly hospitality. So I would try, I decided, this week…I would weed what I could.
But once I got started, I realized how fun it is to pull weeds when they are seated in soft soil. Big weeds are easy to pull and they span large areas, so the work is rewarding. It was satisfying to look up and see the huge area of suddenly clear beauty. Oh! I forgot that path was this wide! and I confess, the other thought was I wonder if I can charm Nick into carrying these huge weed piles away for me. (Yes, you’ve just stumbled upon a bone of contention in our marriage.)
I walked past the raised bed a few times–you see, I was going to skip it entirely. (I meant it when I said I have no trouble being real with my friends–so what, they see a mountainous weedy “garden”. They’ll just feel better about themselves and their own messes. I consider it a public service.)
But being practical, I realized it would take less than five minutes to clear all those big weeds and then it would be done. So I went to it and the soil was so drenched that the weeds practically leaped into my arms. It was (I’m whispering here, ashamed) fun.
Then Aly walked by and Jesus hit me square between the eyes with her question: “Mommy–why are you pulling these weeds?”
I stepped back and looked at the framed garden. I wasn’t going to plant anything here for the year. It was nice soil, but I had no plans for it. But here I was, pulling weeds just to leave the ground bare. I heard the answer bubble up out of my spirit as He whispered it to me… “I’m clearing the soil so Jesus can plant something here.”
Now, I’m not saying this as a natural thing, where I think I’m going to walk out there tomorrow and my Love will have placed a zucchini plant just for me. Though I do love zucchini and would accept them in gratin.
But a powerful parallel of love emerged from my weeded garden. I looked at the rich, fertile ground, dark and clear and ready. I realized that the weeds had thrived there, and good plants would too.
But last week, when the weeds were firmly rooted and determined in dry ground, no amount of good intentions on my part would have coaxed the roots of those weeds from the dirt. I might have cropped them off, level with the ground, so that no one could see them. But they would have regrown.
Hearts are that way, too. We redeemed, holy ones like to walk around showing people their weeds or discussing them righteously with our friends. We fall prey to the temptation to diagnose as a physician, prescribing empty religious techniques–like weed killer, they last for a while, leaving death in their wake and ultimately–the weeds return. Sometimes what we think are weeds, aren’t.
Jesus revealed to me the greatest weed solution of all. It’s so simple. When we see weeds, instead of hurrying to pull them out prematurely (so our friends don’t see them), or ignoring them all together because they are rooted so firmly, we simply lean into Him and whisper from our deepest place:
Jesus, I need rain.
Ironic, isn’t it, that we ask for the very thing that could also encourage the weed to grow? That’s the popular argument against a loving church, isn’t it–that our love might validate a man’s brokenness?
But it is rain–Love Himself–that liberates. So we ask for love to loosen the heart. And then, maybe the weeds grow a little longer. Maybe a flood falls from the foot of the throne at the moment of your prayer. But we, His precious ones, position ourselves for our Gardener, The Physician, to soften the places within ourselves–and within those around us whose weeds we see–with His rain, His love, in the perfect amount, at the proper time. We act as His rain, loving His imperfect people, persistently until the soil permeates and soaks through the cracked places in their hearts. We provide an environment of rain that, over time, prepares them for freedom.
We are imperfect people working towards Christ’s perfection–by definition, we all have weeds. It’s time to stop panicking when we see them, time to stop feeling an immediate personal mandate to clear their impurities. Our strategy for drive-by deliverance is being overwritten by a echoing call from heaven–to love. And then, when we see the soil is soft, when we see their hearts have been affected by love in such a way that they are willing, then, gently, in love, and by the roots, we pull. One at a time, testing to see if they are ready to yield. If not, we are patient–because He is patient.
It becomes an act of love, to gently liberate, deliberately, carefully. One at a time. We become freedom dealers, surrendering to relationships that last longer than a coffee date, go deeper than a movie night. We invest our hearts into people, knowing that WE are the rain falling from the skies over a generation of thirsty, hard hearts. His hands tenderly releasing people from roots of painful conditions.
In this way, as they willingly eject their weeds, they receive a readiness to accept good seeds, and their destiny of fruitfulness is propelled forward. New, good things are planted. Life begets life and they, themselves, become eager freedom dealers. It will become a kingdom wave that will take over the world. It contains a power that will accomplish what governments and world systems never will.
Today, I’m praying for rain for the weeds. I’m becoming rain for the hearts overcome by weeds. Ironically, the rain will set them free.