My father told me a story a long time ago about two farmers who lived in our community during his childhood. Daddy was born in 1923, so the setting would have been in the days when agriculture relied heavily on mules, hand tools, and hard work. I’ve forgotten the names of the men or where they lived, which is probably for the best. I’ll just call the main character Shade because that seems to fit.
Shade had a stellar reputation for consistency in his lackadaisical approach to farming. The abundant weeds in his crops each year may have bothered him a tad, but not enough to overcome his aversion to sweat. One summer when his cotton was losing a wrestling match with nutgrass, a neighbor was passing by and saw him on his porch. He took a seat in the other rocking chair and made small talk, intrigued at how meticulously Shade was whittling a stick which would serve no purpose.
The neighbor was hoping to say something inspirational, words of wisdom that might lead his friend to make a better effort in the fields. “Shade,” he finally said as politely as possible, “I’m not trying to tend to your business, but I believe that nutgrass is going to eat you up.”
After a thin shaving of curled cedar fell to the floor, Shade stopped rocking and laid his knife aside. He took his hat off and held it above his eyes as he squinted into the afternoon sun and gazed across his one-horse farm. “You just might be right about that,” he replied with an agreeable nod. “But it’ll have to come up here and get me.”
Whether that’s a true story or not I don’t know. It could have happened, or it may be one of those tales of unknown origin that were commonly shared at country stores. Besides offering groceries, hardware, kerosene, and S.S.S. Tonic, country stores were a primary incubator of homespun humor. Factual or fictional, either way it seems fitting to introduce today’s short primer on weeds.
There are two things about weeds that are troublesome. The first is they compete with what’s being grown. That works the same whether it’s a thousand acres of peanuts or a few tomatoes in the back yard. Weeds compete with desirable plants for everything – nutrients, water, sunshine, and even space. If they go unchecked, they’ll diminish the yield of whatever is being grown. A crop might still be made, but it won’t be what it could have been.
Another major problem with weeds is they go to seed. They love reproducing and some are more prolific than others. Palmer amaranth is the rabbit of the weed world. Pigweed, as it’s commonly known, reportedly produces up to 35,000 seeds per plant. That’s higher than even Jethro Bodine can cipher, so I won’t attempt to verify the data. If you take a close look at a mature pigweed, however, that seems about right.
Obviously, it’s critical to keep weeds out of fields and gardens in order to produce the best crop possible. But what about the weeds in our spiritual gardens? Although we understand they hinder us from producing the fruits of a vibrant faith, they are easily ignored. They compete with God for space in our hearts and lives, and like those in the plant world they spread if we don’t get rid of them. Spiritual weeds love company so much that one often opens the door for another. King David, for example, had a fling with Bathsheba then covered it up by having her husband, Uriah, killed. (2 Samuel 11)
Weeds in our spiritual gardens come in all shapes and sizes and a rainbow of colors. Some are on display for all to see while others are hidden, unknown we think, except to God. And sometimes we try to convince ourselves that He won’t take notice.
We all have some weeds to deal with, yet we tend to think the worst ones are those of someone else. The bar is set too low when we compare our gardens with those of friends or the norms of society. Those standards, however, are gaining momentum as biblical guidance loses favor.
Many times I’ve behaved like Shade and had a lack of concern about the weeds in my spiritual garden. I’ve settled for fruits which looked okay to the world perhaps, but didn’t reflect my best efforts. My prayer today is simply that I’ll do better. I’m not sure what the results will be, but here’s what I do know. It’s time to stop whittling and get off the porch.