A growing spiritual life needs to be tended and weeded

When I began my first parish youth ministry job, the office I inherited had a plant.

Other than finding a place for it on the shelf, I can’t say I ever gave this plant a second thought. Luckily for the plant, our parish had a wonderful volunteer who came through the Church to water all our plants… and she quickly realized that this plant in my office was going to need her care and attention.

One afternoon, as my plant was apparently looking particularly sad (I hadn’t noticed), she quipped to me “Mike, you don’t deserve to have plants!” It should be no surprise, then, that most of the gardening and plant care at my home falls under the purview of my wonderful wife.

Not only does she care for our indoor plants, but she has embraced the work of gardening outside as well: planting flowers, pruning bushes, weeding, and maintaining a garden.

My part has been largely been limited to the care of our lawn: initially just mowing it, but more recently (as my wife has shown me how), I’ve begun to do battle against the dandelions and thistle which seem to spread each year in our front and back yard.

It’s been a steep learning curve for a guy who probably still doesn’t deserve to have plants. I’ve learned that the dandelions have to be dug up before they go to seed and create a dozen more plants, and that the thistle needs to be attacked more directly.

I’ve seen how deep the roots on these weeds can go and how, unchecked, dandelions and thistle multiply at an incredible rate of speed. In both cases, if you aren’t deliberate and diligent – if you don’t get rid of the whole plant and root – the weed comes back, and quite often it’s bigger.

I’ve also come to realize that when you pull a weed, you need to make a point of reseeding the empty spaces and overseeding the entire lawn because it’s much harder for weeds to take root in the midst of a healthy lawn … but getting there has been a ongoing, slow process which is taking years to accomplish.

My annual battle against lawn weeds makes me think of the Jesus’ farming parables: about sowers, mustard seeds, vineyards, weeds and wheat, etc, I’ve come to realize that what’s true of my lawn is also true of my spiritual life. Both need this deliberate, constant care. Both need to have some things weeded out – in the case of my soul, the thistle and dandelions are my sin and selfishness… and these, too, can have roots that are far deeper and longer than I ever imagined.

First of all, there are parts of our souls we can neglect, much like a spot next to the shed or under the deck where weeds start to grow. It might be some small sin – some minor pride, lingering in a moment of lust, or an unnecessary overindulgence.

Left unchecked, this small sin can multiply and spread and turn into something much more insidious. For this reason, it is a tradition in the Church to take the time to examine one’s conscience at the end of each day; so that we can come to recognize these spots of danger.

Secondly, when we discover these weeds of sin growing in our lives, we are responsible to do what we can to get rid of them. Christ calls us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation for precisely that purpose.

The truth is, though, that sometimes the roots take a little more work. We sometimes hear the word “concupiscence” as a description of our desire to sin… this is the root that sometimes takes more than one pass to properly address. But the Lord is a diligent gardener and, provided we’re willing to cooperate with Him, He’ll help us dig up the roots of sin in our lives by the sacraments. This work is often supported by prayer, spiritual direction, and accountability found within the greater Christian community.

Third, like my lawn, my soul also needs to be re-seeded and fertilized in order to flourish. This is why we need to live a life of regular Sacraments – Mass and Confession in particular – why we need to pray and spend time in scripture, and why we need to dedicate ourselves in the loving service of others.

Finally, I’m finding that this work of weeding my soul is like the work of weeding my lawn in that it’s a slow process, and there are days where it feels like I haven’t gone very far (that is, until I see pictures of how the lawn looked a few years ago.) While we are still battling against weeds outside, we are dealing with a lot less than we first undertook this battle.

Your soul will grow in the same way – from shoot into a great tree – not by leaps and bounds, but slowly and deliberately. The strongest plants do over a long period of time what my dandelions seem to do in the blink of an eye: they set down long, thick roots in order to survive whatever I or nature might throw at them.

And much of that process happens underground (out of sight). So don’t be discouraged that you aren’t becoming a saint as quickly as you might like – and don’t be discouraged that you’ve still got work to do, weeding sin and selfishness out of your life. Just move forward – ever forward – and be amazed at what God can do with the garden of your soul.

– Mike Landry is the chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools. He is based in Spruce Grove, Alberta.

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