This article comes to you from my vegetable garden. Though very large, it’s my “bit of earth” and one of my favorite places to be in spring and early summer. I think a garden is such a mysteriously peaceful place, don’t you? It appears stationary and frozen in time. Yet in all of it’s silence and unsung activity, it’s a hub of growth and change. I’m continually amazed at how much there is to learn from a garden. As I work, I talk with the Master Gardener as if He were beside me in the flesh. We talk about life and I ask Him to teach me from His creation, to impress deep lessons as I plant, water, cultivate, weed, and tend to the plants.
We just got back from an extended fundraising trip for our mission to South Africa. When we left about a month ago, the garden was freshly planted, and still a massive rectangle of rich, black earth. Right before we left, I saw the tiniest spinach sprouts peeking their eyes above ground. I was delighted to see the first sign of life.
When we arrived home I was overjoyed to find a garden full of flourishing plants…..and not so overjoyed to see that nearly every square inch was covered in weeds. Weeding- what a job this has proven to be! I actually enjoy weeding- I spent many, many hours of childhood weeding our 5 large gardens. But nonetheless it’s a big task, only conquered by taking small portions of dirt at a time. It’s become a family effort, and together we are making progress.
I started to notice something while I was tending the row of tender carrots, and then even more so as I worked around the baby onions. The new plants are so tiny, so fragile and wispy, that my weeding actually displaced some of them. Several times I had to replant carrots, pressing the dirt in around and hoping they would survive the uprooting.
The onions didn’t fare so well. Barely 2 inches high, they were entangled among the weeds, and so thin that if they were accidentally plucked, they wilted instantly and drooped so badly that replanting was no longer an option. I changed my methods and began to use my fingers more and the spade and hoe less.
More fine attention to removing the weed ever so gently….more care to making sure the fragile onion remained intact.
My mind traveled to pastoral ministry and the times when we’ve had to facilitate church disciplines or confrontations about sin issues. And I thought of our churches, and how volatile these “weeding” situations can be, endangering young Christians and seasoned alike if they are not handled rightly, or if the believer is not rooted and grounded deeply in the Word.
Every plant has a circumference, depending on how deep and wide it’s root base has become over time. If the weed beside the plant has a larger root base than the plant, the pulling of the weed will uproot the plant also. Even a large plant can be uprooted, if the weed beside it is as large or larger than the plant itself. So it is with a even a long time believer who hasn’t grown and rooted deeply in their Christian walk. My baby onions were in grave danger even though they were surrounded by small weeds, because they only had a tiny root that didn’t go deep yet. So it is with a young believer who has just begun learning and growing.
So it is with our children as we teach and train- we can uproot much more than the weed if we aren’t gentle and careful.
The truth is this- you never know how a “weeding” situation in a church will affect other weeds and plants. Those in the close circle are vulnerable. They need care during and after the process. All the more reason to handle with care from the very start- to pour mercy and grace into the situation, just as Christ would do.
As it would seem, there are mercy givers and not-so-mercy givers among us. All of us are a work in progress in this area, I believe. Perhaps some of you grew up, as I did, in an environment where grace and mercy were not modeled, and without even knowing that grace extended beyond the point of salvation. But God is so faithful to cultivate these qualities into His children through the process of sanctification.
I’m sad for the days of the past in fundamentalist circles when fellow humans came down harder on each other than God Himself would. When they played God and did a lot of damage in churches, families, and hearts. Maybe I shouldn’t use past tense….because it still goes on in churches, families, and hearts.
But let us– who have been shown eternal mercy by God through the grace of the Gospel (and beyond)- return that mercy and grace in our churches, families, and hearts that God has given us to tend.
Especially when we face a weeding situation.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Galatians 6:1-3
“Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; To shew that the Lord is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” Psalm 92:13-15
Be gentle with your weeds. It is a grace not only to them, but to the plants that surround them. Grace and mercy refreshes and encourages, while the truth roots deeply. Those three coupled rightly make a profound and eternal impact in the lives of others. And what’s more? You’ll never regret it. The Master Gardener will see to it.
A Kindred Spirit
Pastors’ wives, join me this fall?