We’ve been aggressive since we bought the house, and the tide of battle is slowly turning. But I figure that we still have at least a year’s worth of pulling, poisoning, burning, and digging up the weeds before we win the war. We had at first thought we’d get the whole property weed-free before planting grass. But we’ve ultimately come to the conclusion that the only way to win this long-term struggle is to get a lot of grass planted that can compete with the weeds and prevent their redistribution as we continue attacking them. So we went ahead and planted the seed this month knowing that all that rain and sun and peat moss would bring the weeds up just as fast as it was nurturing our baby grass.
While I was hospitalized and then recuperating last month, Wendy and the kids did their best to keep the yard maintained. They watered and mowed faithfully, which is a big enough task since we don’t have automatic sprinklers. You’ve got to know and follow a fairly complex schedule with manual switches and at least eight assigned “stations” where the hoses go.
The one thing that they didn’t do was weed. It turns out that no one in the family really enjoys weeding the way that I do. I never walk outside without pulling at least a handful of weeds. And when I’m on long conference calls for work, I’ll sometimes pull enough to fill a wheelbarrow. I figure that if I can pull them out consistently and with a rate just slightly more aggressive than they can grow back, I’m sure to tip the scales eventually. Plus it’s just fun to get my fingers dirty, to smell the fresh soil exposed, and to look victoriously at the long root of a fallen foe. For me, it’s as fun and therapeutic as popping bubble wrap.
Unfortunately, with all the busyness of my hospitalization and convalescing, nobody got out to do the weeds. And even as I started getting strength back, bending down and pulling things up from the ground was one thing I could not do for several weeks after the gall bladder surgery.
And so, as you’d guess, the yard became overrun with all manner of weeds and mushrooms. It was a horrible eyesore and caused me complete embarrassment. I’m always certain that every neighbor and delivery person is secretly judging me by the number of dandelions in my yard or the straightness of my edging. So I was certain that they were all thinking very poorly of me.
I thought about putting a sign up in the yard, explaining my poor health and promising to pull the weeds soon. But instead, in my weakened condition, I did the one thing I never do: I asked for help.
She called to ask how recovery was going and what I might need for help. Dinner? Babysitting? Cleaning? I said that all I really needed help with was weeding. Mom answered my plea immediately, saying that they’d be over the next night for 90 minutes of weeding. “And,” she clarified, “I don’t mean that you need to feed us or give us drinks or entertain us. I mean that we’ll come and weed and then leave.”
True to her word, Mom and Dad came the next night dressed in work clothes, wearing gloves, and carrying their own bottles of water. They never stepped foot into our messy house or expected anything from us. Instead, they weeded for 90 minutes and then hugged us goodbye and drove away.
And boy did they weed. I’ve never seen anyone as aggressive and merciless to weeds as my Mom can be. She brought her own tools along, some of which we’d never seen before and reminded us of medieval torture devices. She tore through the front yard with them, leaving no prisoners. She scraped down the mesh weeds and found their hidden taproots, which she extracted completely from the soil with dental precision. She pulled through the thorny weeds with her gloves off and laughed at their pathetic attempts to strike back. She reached the edge of the yard and wept that there were no more weeds to conquer.
Helping others is just a very hard thing to get right. But Mom excels at it.
In the parable of the sower, the weeds and thorns that choke out the newly sowed seeds are the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of material wealth, and the lust for power and other luxury. These have been real weeds in my life, most especially in this financially snug year of buying a house that needs repair and restoration. It’s been easy to choke out my spiritual growth this year amid the multitude of challenges we’ve faced. Instead of studying, serving, and praying, I’ve lost too much time to daydreaming, pining, and resenting. I’ve cloistered myself into a corner of self-pity and frustration instead of letting the gospel continue to grow inside me and animate my life.
In this time, I’ve been so very grateful for the friends and family that have found the capacity and ability to help me. It’s incredible how powerfully influential their simple acts have been: a friendly visit, an encouraging word, an expression of gratitude, an offer to help, an invitation to serve. I’ve had them all. And it’s been like weeds pulled from my lawn—they’ve restored me and given me the energy to keep on growing.
Elder Dallin Oaks recently reminded us that the parable of the sower is really a parable about different soils. “The suitability of the soil depends upon the heart of each one of us who is exposed to the gospel seed. In susceptibility to spiritual teachings, some hearts are hardened and unprepared, some hearts are stony from disuse, and some hearts are set upon the things of the world.”
Too often in my life, my soil has been too hard, to shallow, or too covered in weeds. This year, as we fight the good fight in our physical yard, I’m hoping that we can live the metaphor in our spiritual soil. I’m hoping that, with every seed I sow or weed I pull, I’m reminding myself also to tend to that most important soil of my own soul. And I’m immeasurably grateful for those friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who continue to help me tend that garden.