I enjoy vegetable gardens. I would like to say that I enjoy gardening, but I am not sure that is quite the right word.

I like planting. I like watching it grow. I enjoy picking and preserving. I enjoy eating fresh from the garden. But this is the time of year when I might leave town for a week or so and come back to a mess. The weeds have taken over and it is no longer a maintenance issue. Now I have a project on my hands to get it back.

My father-in-law likes gardening as well, but he is more into flowers. I struggle with flower gardens because sometimes I can’t tell the difference between weeds and flowers. Or more specifically what stays and what goes, because there are plants with flowers that need to go and plants that don’t flower that need to stay. At which point the old definition of a weed is helpful — “a plant that is not where you want it.”

I also enjoy working with younger children in gardens. But the challenge there is to keep them from stomping or pulling up the good plants. Not their fault, they just don’t know the difference yet. They need to be taught.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the weeds simply didn’t grow? Sounds great, except that we had a patch of the garden last year that did not have any weeds — or anything else. I had never seen that before, and it was upsetting. Not even the hardiest grass would grow. It turns out that the same conditions that help the vegetables and flowers flourish is also a good environment for the plants we don’t want.

There have been several books, articles and blogs over the past few years written about weeds in our lives. In most of them the “weeds” are people that bring us down, get in our way or harm us. There are times and circumstances when this is the best advice. If someone is in a truly toxic or dangerous situation, it is the right thing to do. Although, it might be more akin to pulling up roots and transplanting in a healthier “garden” rather than getting rid of the weeds.

For much of my life’s garden, I have come to realize that I still have trouble recognizing who the weeds are. This is especially true because most people are constantly changing and growing. What looked like a weed 10 years ago, isn’t. The prettiest roses and the sweetest blackberries have thorns, and purple loosestrife is a beautiful flower that is invasive and aggressive.

But what is truly challenging about making the decision to get the weeds out of one’s life is that people can truly change. I know not everyone believes this, but I do — I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it happen quickly, and I have seen it happen over a decade or more. Plants remain the same plant, but that is not true with people.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah asks, “Can the leopard change his spots?” to which the answer is “No.” But then we read the encouragement from the apostle Paul, who wrote after the resurrection of Jesus in I Corinthians 6:9-11, “Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Those who were once weeds changed.

That is quite an offensive list in today’s social environment, but it was in Paul’s day as well. I also expect that at least one of those descriptors hits nearly everyone — it does me. I have no doubt that I was, at one time, a weed in someone’s garden, and probably still am in some. I also know that some of the people I care most about today would have been eliminated had I followed the advice of those who encouraged me to keep my life free of weeds.

Make your life a good environment for growth and health. Take care of your self. Manage your self. Let the weeds grow, but not overcome you. Work with them, be their friend, watch them change.

Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at sean.niestrath@outlook.com.

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