Last fall, I planted peonies. It’s a labor of love and faith to start peonies from bulbs, because you take this knobby root and cover it up in October or November, and then you wait. And wait and wait and wait.
For six months.
But when spring gets good and launched, you’ll see shoots and leaves and eventually, a tiny little bush. But still, there’s more waiting involved.
Peony shrubs don’t make flowers until their third year. So if you plant peony bulbs, you’re committing to care for something for a good long time before you see anything pretty.
We’ve lived in this house nine years now. Lord willing, we’ll stay here for a few more decades, and I really love the idea of creating a backyard garden full of flowers – even the ones that take a long time to mature. Last fall, I was really excited to choose a spot for my peony bed and to get those bulbs in the ground. This spring, I was elated when they finally started growing.
But this summer, with a million other things pulling at me, I ran out of flowerbed-tending energy. So it didn’t take long for my formerly-hopeful little peony bed to look like this.
Get to Work
Last week, we got a break in the heat and I made up my mind to work on this weedy disaster. I spent hours working until my back groaned, and when I stopped I figured I had one more day of work ahead of me.
The next morning I came outside and realized that our lawn company had come and cut the grass. I’m so thankful for those guys.
Except. They had weed-eated the remaining section of the flowerbed. Those foot-tall weeds were now an inch high.
I’m sure they thought they were being helpful.
But y’all: it made the job take SO MUCH LONGER. When those weeds were high, I could grasp a bunch at once and yank hard and get them out. Now that they were tiny sprigs, I had to go after each sprout individually.
My back started screaming at me, but I was so irritated and grumpy that the lawn guys had made my work harder, that I pushed through and made myself finish the job. I griped under my breath as I tugged on weeds and when I had to dig away at the roots because they were too tiny to give me good leverage for ripping.
And that’s when it hit me.
I need to weed my own plot.
This flowerbed? It was a mess and a tangle and it *definitely* contained plants that didn’t belong there.
My life can get messy and tangled and it can contain errors, sins… and even morally neutral or even ‘good’ things which are just taking up too much time and space to be useful for me.
When the lawn crew showed up to help, they used tools that work for them. And they genuinely thought they were doing a good job! But I needed to attack these weeds and reshape this bed according to the tools that work for me and according to the vision I have for this space.
I immediately thought of the times I’ve let comparison run roughshod over me, and it never works out for the best.
In life, I need to submit to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and to his vision for rooting out my sins, my follies, my temptations, and my distractions. The “tips and tricks” other people use might just make my situation worse. Someone else’s list of worst besetting sins might make me feel arrogant if I don’t struggle with the same things – and it might completely miss the ones that are pulling me out of close fellowship with Jesus.
One more time: I need to weed my own plot.
The flip side of this awareness hit me almost as hard. Weeding my own plot also means minding my own business.
If I let my eyes focus on someone else’s life, I might be able to spot the weeds in the garden – their errors, sins, and morally-neutral-things-which-are-taking-up-too-much-space. BUT! If I barge in to tell them how to fix their problems, or worse, if I go after their problems with the tools that work for me, I might end up making things much worse.
Imperfect analogies, imperfect people
This doesn’t hold up perfectly. There are times when people do need the help of others to identify what’s going wrong — a therapist, a spouse, a trusted friend, a fellow believer. So there are some times when I’m the messy flowerbed and I need to ask an expert to help me tell the difference between flowers and weeds; there are times when a friend will ask which trowels helped to really get all the way down to that root I recently excavated. My analogy here isn’t meant to suggest we are each in a hermetically sealed bubble and only accountable to our own selves.
Working in my garden just keeps presenting me with little object lessons (there’s a reason Jesus told so many parables about plants and planters!) and I think there’s something worth considering in this one. I really think it goes along with Jesus was getting at when he spoke about the log in a brother’s eye and the speck in my own.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”Matthew 7:3-5
First of all: both people in Jesus’s example here have problems/sin/something in their eyes/weeds in the flowerbed. And Jesus tells the first person, who has NOTICED the sin/speck/weed in the other guy’s life/eye/flowerbed: yeah, it’s true that that thing is there. However, my friend, you better tend your own plot/rinse your own eyeball first.
It’s not that we *never* assist a friend with pulling out a speck in their eye or plucking the crabgrass out of their mulch. It’s just that you weed your own plot first.