“All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind.” This wisdom comes from Abraham Lincoln this Presidents’ Day. Just two days before Ash Wednesday, Lent’s official starting gate, Lincoln’s words have sent me to ponder the practices of plucking and planting during this season. Thanks, Abe! (One of my favorite American figures.) Oh, and of course, the Spirit and [his/her] holy manner of working!
Here in Maryland, spring has come early with an unseasonable warmth that we’ve enjoyed on and off and on again over the last month. (At one point I feared – oh no! – that I would have to start mowing the lawn in February!) Every little patch of garden seems to have signs of life and signs of junk. Weeds appear around all the crocus and daffodil growth, and cry out for knees in the soil, gloves on the hands, hands in the dirt, work-work-work!
Initial planting won’t be needed in our front garden, as I planted TONS of tulip bulbs last fall to add to our already large supply. But later weeks will see me planting pansies, perhaps marigolds, definitely begonias, and assorted other items that look pretty in their pots at Lowes or Home Depot. But always there will be stubborn growth and roots of weed to pull, hoping to be ignored long enough to overcome the desired plantings, their prettier cousins.
I weed haphazardly. Rarely do I take a block of time just to pluck. I take 5-10-15 minutes here and there. I bend over and reach for unwanted roots on my way back from putting out the garbage, on my way to the outside stairs. Weeding happens as I go. But planting? Ah, that’s quite deliberate! I space out colors and types and take great joy in watching color arrive and thrive. The colors must be bright, and varied. There must be space to see them. They make my heart smile.
And so, in this upcoming Lenten season when I hope – with you – to set my heart on what is most true (see Feb 11th post), I find at the entrance this invitation to plant and pluck. It seems right to place a greater focus on planting here. In matters of HEART-SETTING, it seems there is an almost opposite dynamic at play regarding the growth of flowers and weeds than in my garden. It’s not the weeds that threaten so much to overcome. The “thistle” should not have my prime attention. Instead, when the focus is on the positive, and practices of life and light, the plantings edge out the weeds. True, some weeds in my life garden continually need plucking. But depriving them of attention – of nourishment and time and energy – seems to shrivel them so they are easier to remove, forgotten like a child’s old toys or last year’s school notebooks.
So, let’s focus on the planting of color and life.
What positives will I plant this Lent through actions that might grow into habits or practices? What about you? Below are some ideas. More importantly, we must each consider our own – born of our sense of our life’s call and where we are on the journey today – rooted in our truest desires and God’s for us and those who do and will know us. Can we each plant some things of beauty in our lives intentionally, like chosen colorful flowers? Can we be thoughtful and strategic about those we plant, the practices we will spend time and thought cultivating, so as to choose what will best take root now and which is most needed in our present landscape?
We may be surprised what God will do with us in the process. What dreams for our lives might begin to come true! What dreams God has for us and others might come to fuller flowering! What new freedoms might we find, and then give from these new places! The plantings we attempt, in our on-again-off-again efforts, may become habits with focus and time, in turn perhaps becoming the type of practices that become part of who we are, as inseparable as our skin.
Review the options below, but go on your own journey through the gardening shop for the colors that seem most apt for your life-Lenten garden.
- Will we plant practices of hope if we are in the midst of doubting times? How about seed planting then? Or perhaps weekly bread baking where yeast wins? Can we put a note on our mirror, in our sock drawer, to remind us that “Hope will not leave us disappointed” (Romans)? What of looking for signs of hope in nature, in the newspaper, in the eyes of our children, parents, loved ones?
- Will we plant practices of silence and space in lives too frantic and frazzled? Plants need space to grow, to stretch, to find the sun, to root-reach for water and nourishment. How about 10 minutes more than whatever we usually give to silence each day? And SILENCE, not reading or journaling or praying with an aid. SILENCE. Listening. Seeing. Being. Try the tried and recommended prayer practice with Psalm 46… Be still and know that I am God, Be still and know that I am, Be still and know, Be still, Be… And silence.
- Will we plant practices of companionship with Jesus if we have been absent from considering him, or we need reminding who God really is? What about reading of and really meeting Jesus in the Gospels and speaking to the Jesus you read of daily in a log, through poetry, in art? Or put a symbol of his presence – a rock, a heart, a cross – in your pocket to touch and be reminded to communicate with him about your life during the day. He is one who lived the limits you and I exist within – sleep and wake, birth and death, joy and sorrow, loss and gift, confusion and clarity, faith and a sense of God’s absence, isolation and community. He is WITH, so we are never alone. Practices here unite us to him, by removing the fog that says we are ever separated.
- Will we plant practices of compassion for others if we have been in a season of great focus on our own journey? What of service or volunteer opportunities? Or finding 5 people to be compassionate to each day in our everyday actions – the cashier, the dry cleaner, the person on the phone, the less than pleasant neighbor, the co-worker?
- Will we plant practices of healing and reconciliation if we have known anger and hurtful relating? Where can we offer this? Where can we receive this? Can we pray for it each day? What about writing to or visiting someone each week we know or guess is in need of this kind of presence? Or noticing people who annoy us and hoping and praying for whatever needs healing in them? Or laying out our own hurting and pausing gently before it asking God to be WITH us with it, as Jesus joined Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ tomb? Or being the son or the Father in the prodigal account in Luke 15… receiving or offering lavish embrace and forgiveness?
- Will we plant practices of care for creation – and for the earth, our home? Are there physical plantings we can do in public spaces or educating of ourselves or others for better action? What of household behavior changes that conserve?
- Will we plant practices of hospitality if we find we have been closed off from people or experiences very different from us? How can we choose each day or week to step across a boundary or invite another over toward us?
- Will we plant practices of reverencing wisdom and wonder? What of visiting with someone over 70 or 80 or 90? Or of writing to a mentor or former teacher or older relative? Or spending time with a child 5 or under listening to their worldview and noticing if there are learnings there for you?
- Will we plant practices of gratitude that brighten areas of life where we may have let strongholds of disappointment or regret hide? Or in places where we overindulge for fear we do not have enough? What small cultivations of being thankful for breath, sight, taste, love, life, touch, hearing, friendship, warmth might be fostered? Can we be thankful in small things so that larger sadnesses or clinging may dissipate some simply by focusing on the bright and the open and free?
So, Lent comes. Prepare to plant. And plan to check in each morning or evening on the process – not to micromanage the garden, but to re-set our hearts again and again to the focus on the One who holds our hearts and leads us. The first reading last Sunday from Isaiah included, “Behold, I am doing something new!” God is up to something in the world, in our time, in each of our lives. In this beginning of Lent, may we be up to something too: doing something new, planting something beautiful, acting and practicing whatever positives we choose. I’d suggest that maybe the plucking of our gardens’ thistles might come later, when weeds lag from reduced attention in their direction halfway through Lent.
Whatever your practice or mine, let us remember that at this new Lent’s starting gate we are not in a race. We take a walk with Jesus, who is in the habit of loving his friends into greater and greater beauty and virtue. Let us look to him, and enjoy the fresh spring/Lent/garden air, sights and sounds. Peace to you.