It sounds silly—I know it—but the first time I visited Wartburg Seminary as a high schooler (and where I would eventually attend 6 years down the road), the thing I most fell in love with was the grass. Wide, soft, deep green blades. Inviting passersby to stop, remove their shoes, and walk about freely. A gentle bed upon which to rest one’s tired teenage body while soaking up some vitamin D in the courtyard after sitting through group sessions on youth leadership that felt like eternity. There were many other wonderful things about that place—but I remember the lush grass around the school’s signature Martin Luther statue, because it was so different from that which I’d grown up with down here in south Texas. Brown and patchy. Starving for water. Tough ground unviable for laying strong roots. Sticker burrs and pernicious weeds. Anyone brave enough to enter such terrain without the proper footwear was taking the risk of sore soles into their own hands—quite literally. Certainly no manicured lawn you might find on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens. Of all places, it was in Iowa that the phrase holy ground took on new meaning for me.
Sunday, as we pulled into the driveway upon our return home from church, I looked out at our front yard with disgust. Weeds. Everywhere. Ugh. Whether by a burst of energy left over from the morning’s coffee or out of fear our landlady might drive by and see an unkept lawn, I went out and started pulling up the unwanted annoyances one by one. Progress was slow, but after a while I had a mound three feet in diameter and nearly as tall of thistles ripped from the landscape. Itchy and irritated hands—signs that what had been removed was no good in the first place. Dirty fingernails. A parched palate in need of some cool refreshing water. An achy back begging for some extra-strength Tylenol. An overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Ground that had been covered and starving for sunlight—now reclaimed. Voiding that which was noxious and threatening so that tiny toes might dig into the dirt and grass, running around playfully. Clearing the ground feels like cleansing it. In spite of their size, weeds aren’t something to be disregarded. Covering and constricting anything within reach, they bear the potential to ruin the whole lot. Sieving is an endless job.
As a kid, I was taught to reach down where the plant met the ground and firmly grasp at the base of the stem under all the pokey leaves, so as to get all the roots out. Sometimes, however, those pesky boogers just break off—further taunting you. Haha, not this time. I’m here to stay! Now, different people deal with weeds differently. Some meticulously yank out each one. Makes for tedious work. Others just mow ‘em down. Quick and easy, right? Then there’s those who are proponents for pesticides. Poison works wonders. And, finally, there’s the plain ole avoidance. It’s not so bad. I don’t have the time or energy. I’m going for the backyard jungle-look. With the exception of ignoring it, we all know what happens when you ignore a thistle. It sprawls out over the surrounding carpet grass—stealing rays and starving the vegetation beneath it to death—all the while pollinating into a hundred little headaches across one’s yard. On this side of removing all the sod and putting down AstroTurf, weeds always return—it’s just a matter of when and where.
So what’s a person to do when faced with a weed? Is one strategy better than another? Pull? Plow? Poison? How do you go about addressing the particular nuisance without harming or jeopardizing the greater ecosystem around it? Is there any smidge of value—something to be gained—in having it there in the yard, or does it only threaten everything in the vicinity? Weeds come by many names, different sizes, shapes, and colors. Dandelions. Thistles. Oxalis. Burdock. Pigweed. Crabgrass. Clover. Deadnettle. Ivy. Knowing no one can spend their entire life by the window, watching and waiting for the next weed to pop through, what’s the best practice for dealing with weeds? Is the ground worth keeping, or is the matter merely something to be overlooked as the norm? Are we content with sticker burrs and brown patchy grass, or are we expected to be better stewards than that? Perhaps the question is less of what to do and when we’ll finally stoop down, dirty our hands, and say enough is enough. What is being lost when we let weeds overtake the yard? Just asking for a friend 😉 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!
– Pastor Andrew