Don't Heed the Weeds.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The weeds will come.

They’ll come at night when you’re about to go to sleep, or when you’re driving to Target on a random Wednesday afternoon. They’ll come and they’ll crowd out that decision you made in soundness of heart and sureness of spirit. They’ll try to convince you that you’re making a mistake, that the peace you’ve been feeling is only of a superficial sort and not the abiding kind. They’ll whisper that you should turn around and go back, that you should slam the brakes instead of accelerating into the unknown. They’ll tell you that the Lord is a God of scarcity and not of abundance, that there’s nothing for you where you’re going, that you’re leaving the best behind.

These are insidious lies.

I believe that if weeds are showing up, it’s actually a surefire sign that we are doing something hard and holy and brave and good.

Jesus uses so many parables in the Gospels to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, but I’ve been meditating on one in particular since it was read at Mass a couple Sundays ago. In Mt 13: 24-30, Jesus compares the Kingdom to a humble farmer who sows good seed in his field. The farmer is pretty excited about all the potential in that field, about all the good wheat that’s going to be grown, but then his enemy comes in the middle of the night and tries to sabotage his crops by sowing weeds there, too. The farmer’s slaves are alarmed to see weeds growing alongside the wheat, and they ask him: “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?” Their master doesn’t hesitate: “An enemy has done this.”

An inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which can often be identified -- at least in part -- by the consolation it brings, is the good seed which the Lord sows in our own lives. But if we are doing the work of the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that we will face opposition. The Evil One will plant weeds, because he can’t stand watching us use our gifts and talents to further the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes those weeds might take the form of external obstacles to fulfilling God’s will, but most often, I see them as those doubts, fears, and lies that try to convince us we’ve made a mistake and should abandon our efforts. Recently, I’ve felt this in my own life with regard to moving across the country and going back to school. I’m worried I heard the Lord wrong, that maybe this will prove an unwise decision, after all. I’m afraid I won’t find community. I’m nervous about budgeting on a graduate student stipend. I’m worried I might fail all my classes. I’m anxious about all things COVID-19. These fears pile up to persuade me that I’ve made a terrible mistake, and that I’m better off staying where I am, that I’m safer here.

In these moments, I’m tempted to wring my arms in despair and ask God, “Hey, what’s happening here? Didn’t You sow good seed in this field? Didn’t I make this decision in peace? Where did the weeds come from?”

But He looks at me, when I want to turn back, and says, “An enemy has done this.” And His meaning is plain: Don’t heed the weeds. Don’t listen to the Evil One. There is Kingdom Work for you ahead. Press on.


Monday, August 3, 2020

A spiritual director told me once that it’s a good idea to “gather the graces” from one experience before transitioning to another. 

And so, since I am moving in a week, I wrote some words on index cards -- the major themes and defining moments of the last five years, the movements of the Holy Spirit in my heart, the fruits grown in this season -- and I laid them on my bedroom floor. 

Words like Community. Prayer. Fear. Anxiety. Trust. Peace. Joy. 

And I saw in this smattering something I never did before, in all the time I spent feeling like I didn’t have my life together. I saw that becoming isn’t something that just happens to you all at once, when you attain the degree or find the right job or move to a new state. I saw that becoming isn’t an accomplishment you can wear; it doesn’t arrive in a StitchFix box on your doorstep.

Becoming, I realized, is not the destination; it’s the method of traveling. You don’t get from Point A to Point B without a whole lot of becoming in between, the kind that takes time and prayer and openness to what the Spirit is doing in your life, even if -- especially if -- you don’t understand it. 

This is all very good for me to remember, because, like so many others of my generation, I can’t help but feel that I should be Somewhere Else by now -- married, maybe, with a promotion or two under my belt in my chosen career. But Somewhere Else is a traveling circus that is very difficult to pin down. It thrives in imaginary expectations and has no basis in lived reality. I shame myself so readily for not having discovered my vocation at the end of college, afraid I wasted all those in-between years, without ever stopping to consider that maybe those dreams needed time to mature -- and so did I.

While a friend of mine reflected on her own life recently, she said to me, “If someone had told me the plan five years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready for it.” And I have been clinging to that lately when I need a reminder that my life is right on time. 

If someone had told me to move to Washington, D.C. and pursue my doctorate in English five years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready for it. I hadn’t yet become the kind of person who desired that. It took every experience I had in Colorado -- and all the ones that came before -- to rouse and shape these longings, and to help me excavate the yearnings I didn’t realize were buried in first grade phonics, in the eighth grade academic decathlon, in my Intro to Shakespeare midterm, in my post-college publishing ambitions.  

Becoming is slow work. It’s conversation and side-splitting laughter. It’s chai tea lattes and favorite cookie recipes. It’s your first job. It’s a master’s degree program. It’s renting your first solo apartment and drinking wine out of paper cups with your best friend when you haven’t unpacked your glasses yet. It’s writing papers and revising them. It’s going to therapy. It's early-morning prayer and afternoons in the Adoration chapel. It’s singing your favorite song at the top of your lungs, and breaking it down in dance class. It’s fruitful new friendships and awkward first dates. It’s your first year teaching elementary school. It’s desperation and jubilation, exhaustion and exhilaration. 

But mostly, becoming is simply this: showing up for your life, one day at a time. You can’t do that and remain unchanged. 

You cannot show up to your life, one day at a time, and remain unchanged. 

When I moved to Colorado, I thought it was just a place to be on the way to something else. I was sure I’d be here two weeks -- a month, max -- before going wherever it was I felt I really needed to be. And then I thought I would become someone. 

But looking at all those words I spread out on the floor, I think I finally “got it,” that these five years were a season of becoming. That they were necessary. That this wasn’t wasted time, waiting for something else to start. That, to paraphrase a favorite quote by Fr. Mike Schmitz: Who I became while I was waiting, was every bit as important as what I was waiting for. 

Hannah Brencher calls this consistent and mostly unremarkable unraveling, “slow magic.” I think I might just call it perspective.

All this to say, if you feel like nothing is happening for you in your life right now, I promise you this: something is happening. Something is happening.

Show up. Stay the course. Press on. And gather all those graces. Gather them often. Scoop them up and press them to your heart. 

One day you will see it, if you don’t already: that you’re not the same person today that you were then. That you were becoming, too. You still are.

And that’s the best part.