We’ve attempted our first official garden this year. And by some miracle, we have so far enjoyed garden-fresh zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and peas from our own backyard. Cucumbers, onions, carrots, and corn have yet to be enjoyed but there is hope. The weeds, however, are rampant. There is no stopping them. And they stretch beyond just our garden – our immediate yard, ditch, the unused field on our property, the landscaping projects we’ve started and not quite completed – all have become overrun with nasty, prickly weeds. Weeds, weeds, everywhere.
As an aside, I had this wonderful vision of what a relaxing and rewarding hobby gardening and landscaping would be. I imagined Hadley playing happily outside, or even working alongside me (with her little Dora gardening gloves and kid-size gardening tools we got for Easter this year), while Adrienne laid contentedly on a blanket and I worked in the garden, enjoying the sunshine and meditating on God’s goodness in a little peace and productivity. If you’re not laughing already, maybe you ought to be. My vision failed to take into account nasty bugs, 100 degree heat, and bored children.
So. The weeds have gotten out of control. I’ve pulled them here and there, but have not kept up. They were as tall as the corn stalks and it had become a major project hanging over my head. One that I finally took on, bug spray-drenched and dripping with sweat and dirt. Four rows of corn and two hours later, I had made visible progress. (Progress you likely couldn’t identify if you looked at the rest of the garden, but progress nonetheless.)
There is something strangely satisfying about weeding. Progress is immediately visible. Every time the roots come up, it’s like a little victory. Sometimes, I would grab a huge weed, pull with all my might, and realize that the roots were shallow (which often sent me falling to the ground.) But truthfully, even when the roots clung hard and I only managed to take off the top, it was only a little less satisfying. It still looked better. The weeds at least appeared to be cleared. Nevermind that they would reemerge in just a day or two.
Jordan and I have talked often of how weeds are a constant reminder that we live in a fallen world. What an effective picture of sin and evil in the world.
What an effective picture of sin in my heart.
So it was on this that I meditated as I pulled weeds, thinking of what I had read recently in Tim Chester’s book, You Can Change. Speaking of the mortification of sin, he says:
“Mortification is like gardening. We need to weed out the sin in our lives. My garden is plagued by different kinds of weeds. We’ve inherited some tree stumps. Removing them is hard work: you need a pickax, a whole afternoon, and my friend Steve. We also have a lot of scarlet pimpernel. That’s easy to dig up, but neglect it for a few weeks and it’ll quickly take over. We also have brambles. You can pull them up easily enough provided you were thick gloves. But leave even a small piece of root in the ground and they’ll come back.
“Sometimes weeding out sin is like pulling up tree stumps. A particular sin may have gripped our heart for so long that its roots run deep. It’s become a habit. Pulling up this weed will be hard and painful work. It’s better by far to pull up the weeds of sin as soon as they emerge, when they’re still small and rootless…But this is a constant task. Every day’s neglect makes the job harder. The key thing is to mortify the roots of sin. We need to be putting to death sinful desires, not just changing our behavior. Otherwise sin will be like my brambles, growing again from any root left behind.” (108-109)
Over the past few weeks, I really thought I was making some progress. As God convicted of sin, even unearthing some layers I had long-since forgotten, He was meeting me in the midst of it, leading me by grace towards repentance. It’s not as if I thought I had “arrived” anywhere in particular; I just noticed a move in a good direction, where I was preaching the truth to my heart and choosing to obey in faith and through the process, God was sweet and present and gracious.
Like pulling weeds, there is something strangely satisfying about mortifying sin. With every new awareness of my inadequacy comes the glorious picture of Christ’s sufficiency. Jenny Salt said in her session in Orlando:
When we feel the most weak, God is softening our hearts.
In our weaknesses, we learn to depend on God alone.
He is stripping us of our delusions of competence.
I bring nothing, He brings everything.
Similarly, John Piper offered a picture of God’s holiness, in the face of which we realize the depth of our shortcomings. And then he said, “You know you have experienced something great when that reality is sweet to you.”
I’ve never thought of rooting out sin as sweet because for years, I was trying to conquer sin in my own strength. I set up law after law and messed up time after time. I walked around feeling like a failure constantly until I finally just deadened my heart and embraced my sin for the fun I determined it would be. (It wasn’t.)
But it’s always after a few weeks of perceived progress that the rubber meets the road. Growth meets challenge. Peace meets chaos. And all that fruit of the Spirit you thought you had stored up has disappeared and the overflow of your heart is just not pretty.
We’re coming out of a rough week. The kind that makes you wonder if you’ve made any progress at all. The kind that sends you to your parents’ for the weekend so you can pass the baby and take a deep breath and watch a little mindless television. The kind that leaves you feeling like a total Mom/Wife/Person-in-general Failure.
The kind of week where the weeds reemerge and you realize that you had just gotten out the weed-wacker to make everything pretty but there are roots that need to be gently, slowly, meticulously dealt with. And the weed-wacker won’t cut it. You have to get out the spade.
Man, it hurts.
And I’d kind of rather just stay in bed. Say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m too tired to deal with this problem today. Maybe tomorrow.”
But instead, I find that it’s all rather good.
Why, you ask?
Because God is still sweet and present and gracious.
I still bring nothing (that has been confirmed time and time again).
But He still brings everything!
He patiently reminds me over. and over. and over again that what I perceive as my competence is only a delusion. But his grace is sufficient for me. And His grace is not dependent upon my progress.
And then He offers the gift of fresh starts. Of four-year-olds who forget that last week you were a total jerk and babies who sleep all night after a week of restlessness. He offers the gift of Monday mornings.
And, better yet – Monday naptimes.