A month-and-a-half before Christmas we moved into a new house. Those living here before us kindly tidied the garden before they moved on, planting strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes and lettuces.
Over the next few weeks, I weeded frequently to protect these young plants, looking forward to when we would eat this wonderful homegrown produce. I’m no green thumb, struggling even to keep houseplants alive, so the prospect of having something delicious from our own garden was exciting.
An unfamiliar plant
One day I noticed an unfamiliar plant had emerged. It had lush green leaves and tiny white flowers. I wasn’t sure whether it was a weed or not, so for a while I let it stay, watering it alongside everything else.
Before we moved in, my husband chatted with a lovely elderly woman who used to live in the house next door to our new home. Where our house sits had been her family’s backyard, with a healthy vege patch. She reminisced that one Christmas Eve, her late husband had headed down to the garden to bring in fresh new potatoes for Christmas dinner – only to discover their much-anticipated spuds had already been dug up by others from the neighbourhood! What a disappointment.
Perhaps, I thought, this unfamiliar plant in my garden was potatoes. Didn’t they have little flowers? Maybe we were going to enjoy the Christmas bounty denied to the family that lived here long before us!
I kept up my routine of weeding, watering and watching. Even as our few strawberries were devoured by opportunistic birds, and as our dog (and a visiting dog) continued to ‘water’ everything else above ground (making my family look at the lettuces and tomatoes with less excitement), I comforted myself that at least baby potatoes were growing underground.
As I say, I’m no gardener and as Christmas Day neared, I started to doubt myself. Perhaps these weren’t potatoes at all? Finally, I reached out to an expert for a second opinion.
Turns out these unfamiliar plants weren’t potatoes but a pernicious weed I’d allowed to grow so strong they now threatened everything else. They offered nothing of benefit to our family, just a wide, hungry and ultimately damaging root system.
When weeds take hold
In life, there are all sorts of new growths that look innocuous or even attractive at first but can take hold and destroy the goodness around them.
How many alcoholics and addicts look back with regret on those first few drinks, those first few hits?
How many gossipers wish they’d learnt to hold their tongue and speak words of kindness and encouragement, rather than nurture a critical spirit?
How many people in bondage to pornography wish they could turn back time and keep this toxic habit from taking hold?
As Benjamin Franklin said in 1736, when warning the citizens of Philadelphia that it was smarter (and cheaper!) to prevent fires than fight them: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. It’s best to pay early attention to any attitudes and actions that have the potential to become defining characteristics in our lives.
How wise we are to routinely consider what we’ve allowed to take root in our lives. Some things will be beneficial, and we can celebrate with gratefulness where we have allowed goodness to grow. But other things we can – and should – do without.
Over time, I’ve come to deeply appreciate that when I remain in close relationship with God, the Holy Spirit will prompt me about what is worthwhile in my life and what isn’t. About those traits I’m right to nurture, and those harmful, even sinful actions that need to be dealt with.
I don’t always pay attention as early as I should, but I’ve come to understand that even God’s most urgent ‘STOP THAT!’ or ‘GET RID OF THAT!’ exclamations are expressions of loving kindness, not words of cruel condemnation.
God wants to help us grow – and grow well – so we don’t become overcome and demoralised by harmful, strangling weeds. And if we’re not sure whether something is a weed or not, perhaps it’s a good idea to ask for a second opinion early.
Christina Tyson has been a Salvation Army officer (minister) for almost 30 years. For 16 years she was involved in Salvation Army communications, but now works to support local churches and recruit future leaders. Recently she also took on an additional role as The Salvation Army’s Response Officer for the New Zealand Royal Commission into Abuse in Care. Christina and her husband Keith live in Wellington, New Zealand, and have three adult children.