In one of my first posts on this blog, I wrote about over-aggressive weeding. I confessed to a tendency to hyper-focus on trying to pull out every single weed, even when they get so entwined with the garden plants that I do more damage than good. That happens to be the theme of the parable in today's gospel reading (Matthew 13:24-30). Jesus cautions his followers not to be too zealous in weeding. He says, "if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest."
Now, at the first level (OK, the 2nd level -- the first is my poor garden), I think of this as meaning that we should not rush to judgment of people, not label people as "good" or "bad," "wheat" or "weeds." Not try to exclude the people we consider "bad" from, let's say, our church. I think that's a pretty standard interpretation, actually. But as I've gotten older, and especially as I've been growing into this religious vocation, I have begun to look at it on another more personal level.
I am learning to be more patient and gentle with myself, the weeds in my own character. My garden needs weeding, and also watering, and pruning, and staking. It needs me to put in a considerable amount of careful effort. But it also needs time, and sunlight and rain, none of which I provide. Likewise my inner garden. It requires me to work at establishing good habits and breaking bad ones, to spend time in prayer, in reading, in housework and yardwork, to get enough sleep, and a decent diet, and some exercise. But it also requires grace, that part of the formula that is out of my hands. Some weeds I have to get down on my knees and pull -- the chickweed and the stiltgrass -- and some, like the bindweed, I can only keep breaking off at the ground because its roots are 10 feet deep and I'll never get them out without plowing up or poisoning the whole garden, or both, and even then it'll probably come back.
I once told my brother that I struggle with perfectionism, and he startled me by exclaiming, "I would hate to be perfect! How obnoxious would that be?" I assumed everyone, like me, wished to be (and even more to appear to be) perfect. But he's right, of course. Perfection is obnoxious. God Almighty inspires awe and even fear. It's God as needy infant who inspires love, and God the tortured, dying man, who inspires compassion. And it is the mirror of our weaknesses in others that inspires us either to love or hate them, in proportion to how we love our hate our own weak selves.
So I learn. I'm a better gardener than I used to be, both with my vegetable garden and with my inner field of intermingled weeds and wheat. I spend a little time most days watering and weeding, but I am no longer so apt to damage the crop by attacking the weeds too aggressively. I am less proud, less rigorous, and more gentle with myself. I'm more willing to wait on the sun and rain, in whatever time and proportion they come, and to accept that some plants will thrive and others die off, and that it is not all in my hands. Even, sometimes, I find that what I considered a "weed" turns out to be beautiful or useful, and what I planted on purpose is a waste of space. There is another Gardener who tends me and my garden with infinitely more wisdom and skill and care than my own.