My husband and I have lived on our gentleman’s farm in Maine for two decades. My roots were in a Boston suburb; thus I had much to learn about country living. Our floppy-eared Nubian goats knew I was a city girl and often took advantage of that fact by misbehaving, nipping at our flower garden as I endeavored to bring them to pasture. Chickens fluttered at my feet as I hung laundry out to dry. I spent many hours in the garden armed for war. I wore netting over my head to combat mosquitoes and black flies. I pulled socks over light-colored pants for tick control. I sprayed my skin with oily insect repellent. Inept at planting, I became the-one-who-weeds. A blazing sun beat down on me, sweat poured off my brow, and my knees hurt from crawling around on rocky soil. In the midst of this penitential rite, I often thought about weeds as God’s way of teaching us about sin.
Take the bindweed. I came to call it the evil bindweed, not knowing that it also was known as “Devil’s Gut.” Lilac trees thrive in Maine and ours were no different. One day I noticed a mysterious vine creeping up our lilac, twining around the branches. This was not a gentle clasp on the bark. I had to pull hard to extricate it. This bindweed was determined to strangle the tree, scarring it for life. Oh, how easily it can fool the unsuspecting gardener, such beautiful flowers it has. Shaped like bells, they are candy-striped and fragrant. It was a formidable opponent. One flower can produce 600 seeds in one season. An underground root system extends thirty square feet. I was ignorant of all this and thought I could beat the evil bindweed.
I pulled and hacked, but the weed came back. I became frustrated and whacked even harder. The weeds came back, stronger than ever, for it had a secret weapon. Foolish gardeners cut the roots and that promotes new shoots. Chop it into one hundred pieces and it will multiply like rabbits. I noticed this same characteristic in my sinful nature. I tried to stop judging and I judged all the more. I tried to forgive and held onto the grudge.
Like an expert gardener understands weeds, St. Francis de Sales knew human nature. He saw people fret over their sin. Disgruntled sinners wandered in and out of confession encompassed by dark clouds. Angry people became angry at being angry. Sad people became sad at being sad. Irascible people became irritated by being irritated. What is a sinner to do? St. Francis had sound advice. Hate your faults. Confess them, but be tranquil, not discouraged.
“Unless you do this, your imperfections will disturb you even more and thus grow stronger, for nothing is more favorable to the growth of these weeds than our anxiety and over eagerness to get rid of them.”
Evil bindweed does not thrive in all places. Never will you see those pink flowers sprouting in peaceful meadows. I will give up my ways as a frustrated gardener, hell-bent on ridding my garden of weeds. I will be at peace, tilling my inner garden, content to grow holy in God’s good time.
After going to confession, do you feel at peace?
Copyright 2018 Kathryn Swegart