I knelt in the dirt, gripping the weeds low to the ground, pulling firmly until I felt the slip of roots and found one loose in my hands. We’d been at it for nearly two hours. The garden had been sorely neglected, and we had a great deal of catching up to do. I had a routine by this point: hack at the hardened earth with the garden hoe to loosen the clods which anchored our intruders, then bend close and work them out of the soil, toss the green carcases into the rusting handcart, and repeat. Slowly, we were regaining order. Slowly, our vegetables were being given tidy prominence.
For the first thirty minutes, it was fun. My hands were in the dirt. The air was cool. It was good to be outside in the summer air. Then it gradually became a bit more like work. I was determined to see it finished, but my back was aching and I was leery of blisters on my bare hands.
I was in amongst our friend’s celery stalks, and I was thinking of the garden metaphors of the Bible. I was thinking of how difficult and dirty the weeding and the pruning really is. I was thinking of the pain when things are ripped up by the roots from your heart, no matter how necessary or beneficial.
And then my mind was slipping away to another garden, years ago.
I was standing proudly, admiring my work. A large hump of limestone protruded from the middle of the bed, sprawling through the mulch like a sleeping animal bewitched and turned to stone. Creeping phlox stretched its thick floral carpet from one corner. The flowers bloomed in shifts here. First the peonies. Tiny ants would crawl over the unopened blooms, skittering along the tightly wound knots of petals unborn, until they burst open in dark pink clumps. Then came the delicate Shasta daisies and the purple coneflowers, with their rough protruding centers. By mid-summer, the black-eyed Susans took on the color of the sun in a child’s drawing. A holly bush held its ground on the far side, dropping its crisp brown leaves in wait of my perpetually summer-bare feet.
I don’t remember why I’d signed myself up for the project. Maybe I was bored and set my mind on an ambitious project. More likely, I was trying to earn some money for the annual summer trip with the youth group.
I looked forward to those trips. I remember we had to give our testimony to the church. I remember thinking mine was boring and dreadfully short. I was raised in the church as a part of a Christian family. I’d never left. Somewhere along the way, the faith had become my own, but I hadn’t crossed through a tumultuous season of rebellion or doubt. I had simply grown up into a knowledge of who Christ was for me—and I chose to continue to follow Him. Short. Sweet. Uninteresting.
The flowerbed I was now admiring had been overrun by weeds and shriveling dead blooms a few hours before, and now order had been restored. The weeds pulled and thrown into the overgrow wooded area behind the house, the flowers trimmed and dead-headed for another round of colorful blossoms.
My dad stood beside me. I was commenting on how nice it looked, how much better it was in contrast to how it had been before.
“Yes, it looks nice,” he said, “but would it be any less beautiful if it hadn’t gotten overrun in the first place?”
There is grace in weed pulling, in the restoration and transformation. There is also grace in the staying power that keeps weeds from sprouting up and forming a stranglehold. An unseen, unacknowledged grace.