The Garden and the Weeds

On Saturday the women of our parish gathered for a retreat considering our interior gardens, a play on St. Teresa of Avila’s famous interior castles. I was asked to give a short reflection, and I chose Ecclesiastes 3: 1-14 as my Scripture. It’s one we all know–the one that reminds us that there is a time and a season for everything. I was very nervous, but it went so beautifully, and I loved hearing the other reflections and spending a day in the company of such wonderfully wise women. Here’s my reflection.

When I was invited to reflect on the state of my garden, the first word that came to mind was “loud.” No, I don’t mean in color. I mean in volume. I am the mother of two small children, aged five and 20 months, and loud is the name of the game. As I was typing this in the kitchen, they were racing in circles around the house with a Costco box they were pretending was a boat, apparently one in some distress, given the captain’s shouting. Also, they are both boys, so sometimes the plants get watered in rather…unconventional ways.

In all honesty, I have spent quite a lot of time and emotional and spiritual energy rebelling against the state of my garden as a mother. I want neat rows and lines! Order! Perfectly calibrated rainbows of blooms! Anyone in this room who has spent time with small children can go ahead and have a hearty laugh at my ambitions. In my spiritual fantasies, I greet the day with a steaming cup of coffee, the morning mass readings, and ample time to pour my heart out to God in my journal. In this fantasy life, I pray all of the hours of the Divine Office, conduct a thorough Examen daily, and squeeze in a rosary or two for good measure. I spend hours with Scripture in Lectio Divina, and pepper the day with spiritual reading and corporal works of mercy.

In reality, my prayer life is…rather more haphazard. I spend my mornings wiping little faces and mediating cereal disputes. Sometimes I don’t get to the mass readings until my third cup of microwaved coffee at 4pm. And, frankly, I am far too exhausted after getting them to bed to examine much of anything in depth. Honestly, it feels very often like my garden is full of weeds: interruptions, chaos, plants I didn’t sow ruining the order of my ideal little spiritual oasis.

But this passage from Ecclesiastes gives me comfort: there is a time for everything. A day will come when I will have a more orderly garden and more time for meditative prayer. But because there is a time for *everything,* I can rest assured that this isn’t a season to be rushed through. It is right and it is good, and there is much for me to learn here in this weedy season.

Still more comforting is the reminder of the mysterious nature of the divine: no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. And everything God does will endure forever—nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it—and that includes my weeds. In my best moments, the ones in which I feel closest to God, He grants me the understanding that right now it isn’t really about the garden that I’m trying to plant for Him, but rather the garden that He has planted for me. My duty as a gardener right now is to water everything—that is, to respond with love to everything—whether I planted it or not. After all, we find God in ALL things, not just the orderly ones. It does my soul good to remember that our God is wild and full of mystery. He cannot be tamed. He is not afraid of my weeds.

I wish that I could tell you that I’ve perfectly internalized this lesson, that I’ve come to look upon my unruly garden with complete acceptance and affection. Instead, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been trying to read a spiritual book during some domestic cacophony and internally shouted, “Everybody be quiet! I’m trying to learn how to be more holy!” In my better days, I can chuckle at my rigidity and see that the pathway to holiness is right there in front of me all the time: it’s the choice to love, to give selflessly, to embrace the noise and the wiggly bodies of these two little people I adore.

As for the garden, sometimes I do get a chance to visit it alone in the early morning light. As dewdrops shimmer on every leaf and petal, I can see its beauty clearly. I can see that those weeds that keep popping up, are not actually weeds after all. They are wildflowers.


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