As part of his First Communion preparation, my son Stephen made a 9-day novena that ended yesterday. He planted a spiritual “garden” in preparation for his special Guest’s arrival, including such planting such virtuous blooms as roses (acts of kindness), lilacs (not getting angry), and daisies (for obedience).
Not surprisingly, I found myself very inspired along the way. I love the whole idea of gardening as a metaphor for spiritual growth. It’s the theology of the Little Flower, and I love the Little Flower. Throughout the week-and-a-half of Stephen’s novena, I began to see that not only could my own little plot use a handful of beautiful transplants, it was in need of a good weeding as well.
Working, then, with this analogy (and having fun with it, I might add), here is a literary example of what a surprise visit to the garden of my soul might look like on any given day:
Welcome! I say, with a friendly yet somewhat embarrassed smile. What a surprise! Would you like to see my garden?
Being the curious type, you say yes.
Alrighty then! I say, and off we go.
Over here I have my anger and impatience plants. They are coming up quite nicely, I think. This little shrub is Vanity; isn’t it pretty? That’s my Climbing Pride on the trellis over there; that thing has just taken off since I planted it last August yet requires abundant pruning to be kept in check. These bushy plants are called Intemperance. I liked them a lot when I first put them in, but they get really big really fast and tend to take over the rest of your garden. Last but not least are my many beds of Envy. They’re doing really well, also, but I have to work hard to maintain them.
Well, I’m being facetious and you know it. This is decidedly not how we’d choose to design the garden that’s our soul. These vices are the weeds, of course. The question is: how actively are we uprooting them?
Keep in mind they’re invasive. You have to nip them in the bud, as it were, because they are quick to propagate if left unchecked.
Let’s say, though, in keeping with analogy, that you’ve been fairly successful in uprooting all the major weeds. Awesome. Let’s say you’ve got a lovely patch of dirt to work with. What now? What do you need to do to get ready for a major planting? Well, you need to till your soil.
In my garden, there are plenty of chunks in need of breaking. My plants will not take root if the soil’s too lumpy; I know this. These clumps, for me, are big and easily identifiable: they are perfectionism, distraction, and negativity.
First, perfectionism. Life, like gardening, can be hard for a perfectionist. We are so afraid of failing that we’re remiss to even begin. Consequently, we don’t. (Which is why so many perfectionists are also major procrastinators.) At the heart of our perfectionism is a serious impediment to a beautiful garden (aka spiritual advancement): God doesn’t love me if I don’t do things right.
Second on my list of impediments is being distracted. I have an artistic nature, which in layman’s terms means I’m a dreamer. Being creative means paying the price in other areas. We can be messy, which is not by choice necessarily but because we lack the focus to stay on task for longer than five minutes. Our lacking focus means we lack the ability to follow through, and our hopes and dreams (for all our thinking about them) are left to fester. The biggest losers in this area, though, are our family members. Too often we are too lost in our thoughts to be present to their needs.
And finally, negativity. I love to be happy and will put on a bright face for most people. I prefer this to being a sourpuss! (Plus I don’t want all those little lines around my mouth to show up.) Do you know, though, that given their natural course my thoughts turn more toward being critical than kind? In gardening terms, I cannot walk among the roses for all the thorns. I think this must be the melancholic side of my temperament bullying its way past the sanguine. I tend to hyper-obsess on the negative, which is just no way to live and I’m sure you agree. I dislike this aspect of my spiritual garden most of all and must work hourly to overcome it.
So there you have it. You see what I mean, I hope, about these three things being more lumpy than weedy. They are not explicitly sinful but they can be. They need to be tilled and cleared so that those lovely blooms that I desire—the roses, the lilacs, the daisies—have room to flourish.
On the 9th day of my son’s novena, he planted sunflowers. I just love sunflowers, don’t you? These happy yellow blooms symbolized in the novena the deceptively simple act of thinking of Jesus. How beautiful is this for our little first communicants? And how very necessary for us big kids. For help with all of our gardening problems, we must consult the Master Gardener Himself! He is more than happy to pay us a visit in our humble gardens…and He will come just as often as we ask Him.