Letting the weeds be

In this pandemic, many of us are nostalgic for the old normal. We want to get back to our favorite coffee shop, our favorite restaurant, our church service. In short, we want it to be the way it was.

And of course, there’s nothing wrong with so many of those desires for the old normal. But I’d like to make a proposal. If we are wise in this time, we will not go back unthinkingly to the old normal. 

For those of us whose physical health was not severely affected by the virus, we have the luxury to reflect. Reflect on what the pandemic is teaching us. In this time of slow down we can use the time wisely to take another look at the way things were. And are.

Right now, our lives are probably bounded in ways we have never known before. But could these apparent confinements, these ‘bounds’ which at first feel so frustrating and can make us unhappy, could they in fact be gateways into larger life, a new way of seeing the same things? 

The French writer Marcel Proust wrote, with great insight, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”[1]

I know the force of nostalgia is strong. It’s easy to see what is happening in your faith right now and dismiss it. We would rather appeal to former days as the gold standard when physical distancing and mask-wearing were non-factors in our lives together. But what is happening right now in your faith life, however confining and disruptive the experience may feel, is real. 

Perhaps fresh perspectives have emerged in your reflections and you are not yet sure what to make of it. Perhaps God is calling you into a deeper journey of prayer and action. Perhaps you have re-evaluated your position within the church. Maybe a new direction lies before you.

Is that a weed growing? Or the real deal? Perhaps it is too soon to tell the difference. But whatever you do, it would be a mistake to rip it out now or dismiss it out of hand. Now, you need to let it be, and grow with it.

As we experience discomfort of this time, let’s begin to dream of a new normal, a new normal that addresses these emerging issues and possibilities. If we’re wise, we won’t go back; we’ll go forward.[2]

During the early days of the pandemic lockdown when snow still covered the ground outside, my family started from seed growing vegetables and flowers indoors. 

Two months later we planted the tiny seedlings outside. Since then, they have grown. And we have given thanks for these plants’ and flowers’ resiliency and verdant growth. 

But they have started sharing the earth with other uninvited guests. The weeds began to compete with the tomatoes, cucumbers and nasturtiums. And so, the overwhelming challenge begins for the avid gardener. Days can be spent in the yard or garden doing nothing else then pulling the weeds. It’s amazing how most of the gardener’s time in the late Spring and early Summer can be spent doing only one thing: pulling weeds. 

Indeed, isn’t this how we often approach our lives? Our natural, even compulsive tendency is to pull out, or try to, all the things we perceive are wrong in our life and in the world. Whenever we start to diet or exercise, whenever we take on some just cause or new discipline we will normally run up against distractions, obstacles and challenges. 

And our knee-jerk reaction is to obliterate, purge, remove, expunge, cast off whatever is in our way, whatever blocks our good intentions. If only we can get rid of the impurity in the world and in our lives! If only we can purge our lives of the sin and the bad … then, and only then can we move forward. And, we end up doing violence.

What Jesus says goes against this impulse. Jesus tells a story, a story about weeds and wheat. When the weeds grow alongside the wheat, the workers immediately want to get busy pulling those weeds out from among the wheat. But the landlord calls for a reality check. And, for restraint. ‘Let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest.’[3]

What does it mean to trust God? What does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to follow Jesus? Trusting God, having faith, being a disciple of Jesus is about acceptance, not riddance. The way forward is not marked by violence of any kind. The way of faith is not resisting what emerges in our awareness and on our path.

On the journey of faithfulness, we practice being present to it all. We give permission for the weeds of our hearts and minds to grow alongside what is good and true within us and in the world.

During this time of increased solitude, seclusion and confinement, many of us are discovering what actually matters in our lives. The simple acts of love. The basic practices of listening and paying attention to what is right in front of us.

Yet, as we discover what actually matters we still need to co-exist with all those impulses, hurts, and wounds roiling within us. They will always be there even as we will learn to live alongside this messy, less-than-ideal mixed-up-ness of our lives. On this journey of acceptance we may discover by God’s grace that the parts of ourselves that bother us will eventually loosen their grip on us in the light of God’s unconditional love shining over it all.

We let things grow as they will. And trust that, on the way forward, all will be well.


[1]Cited in Geoffrey Tristan, “You Have Enough” (www.ssje.org, July 15, 2020).

[2]Brian McLaren in Richard Rohr Daily Meditations (www.cac.org, 9 July 2020).

[3]Matthew 13:24-30

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