When I got out of the car with an armful of groceries yesterday, there it was in the small untidy patch between the driveway and the house: grass. Green stuff, new and growing. This should, of course, make me dance around the asphalt in a paean to Spring, like a wispy Jules Pfeiffer poetess, but in fact it only sets my yard-guilts all roiling up again. Knowing my yard, this new growth probably isn't any respectable form of grass--more likely quackgrass or something of that order. I know it's not creeping charlie or dandelions or plantain or anything like that. I know my weeds. This is grass. Weeds I can cope with. Grass gives me the guilts.

Each springtime when this happens, I am reminded of the mess out back and the requirement, sooner or later, that I actually do something about it, other than running the gas mower over it whenever it threatens to get completely out of control. The big lower lawn --originally mowed, with a huge vegetable garden, when we bought the joint--is now plain old meadow with a few trees in it (including the two junk Manitoba maples that really ought to come down). The upper lawn, on the other hand, is a mess: brambles and burdocks encroaching at the east side; a large and flourishing bramble patch on the west, an extinct flower garden behind the garage, and holes and dips wherever the boys used to dig. Even mowing it requires a certain creativity.

Part of me keeps telling myself that if I only got off my duff and got the long clippers and some weed-killer, a load of topsoil and a decent wheelbarrow--then I could fix the mess, a little at a time. "Nothing's impossible to an engine with determination," as they used to say in Thomas the Tank Engine, back when we were in our TTE phase. Problem is, I'm not an engine with determination. I have enough stuff to do already; I am no longer the strong energetic young woman I was back in the late Jurassic Era, and the very thought of tackling the mess makes me very, very tired.

And then there are the lilacs that need deadheading (have never figured out the logistics of this, given their size and the height of our stepladder); and the front yard ought to be thatched and aerated and fertilized; and the side yard--well, never mind the side yard. We rarely look out those windows anyway.

I suppose my naturalist friends would tell me to accept and glory in the natural state of my yard; and we do make use of the blackberries from the bramble patch in season. But my cats keep bringing in skinfuls of burdocks, which have to be picked out. And the yard doesn't look lovely and wild, the way a real meadow can. It just looks like a mess. As a wilderness, it's just as much a failure as it is as a house yard.

So this year, I resolved that as soon as finances permit, I am going to get someone in to clean this all up--preferably someone who knows how to do the job without doing environmental damage, even if that costs a little more than hiring a local good ol' boy with a brushcutter and some herbicide. Whoever it is can clean up the mess, level the yard, move in and tamp down new soil, so that we can plant new REAL grass and have a pleasant place to sit. I might even install a few shrubs; there's a thought!

This being Lent, of course the obvious parallel popped into mind. I'm responsible for at least some of the mess in my mind and soul and heart: if nothing else, I acquiesced with things I should have said "no" to, and I said "no" to things that I should have opened my arms to; and now I am very much like my own back yard, full of brambles and burdocks (and, to be fair, the odd stray hollyhock--the back yard has those too).

Maybe if I'd rooted out those yard weeds before they got a chance to get established, I wouldn't have this messy yard. Likewise, if I'd been able to recognize and root out the weeds in my own soul, it might be a tidier place too--but the funny thing is that your own inner weeds look so pretty when they're fresh young sprouts that you hate to get rid of them; and by the time they show their real nature, they've got tap roots three feet deep and it doesn't matter how long you worry at them with a shovel, because they spread by underground suckers. Easier to root out a bramble patch.

And as the burdocks afflict my cats, so my own burdocks and brambles afflict innocent others. If my sins were altogether my own business, maybe it would be different; but the people around me have to live with them too, and how fair is that?

That's the real reason, I think, for doing something about one's own inner messes: not to please or satisfy God, strange as that may seem--for we have, through Christ, the knowledge that God isn't going to give us what we so richly reserve. But our own inner messes profoundly affect the lives of others around us, and the way our own souls develop.

Take obsessive self-centredness. On _Seinfeld_, it looks funny. In real life, it's anything but cute; it burdens the people who have to live and work with it. And if C.S. Lewis is right (as I think he is), our souls are on a sort of trajectory that carries us over into the life to come, and where is obsessive self-centredness going to take a soul then, when it's got all eternity to get bigger and weedier and more deeply rooted?

So I really do need to do something about the burdocks and brambles within, even if I can hire a guy to deal with the outdoor ones. But as I can't clean up the yard without help, so I can't deal with the inner mess without help. Of course some of that help will be human. We need the love of people around us; we may also need professional help, maybe including medication--it depends. Faith in God does not mean turning your back on whatever help this world has to offer.

But above all, we need confidence in the direction we're going in: we need loving support in the weed-clearing, and a reason for it, because it can be such a discouraging prospect. And there is where we do have God, who loosens the deep tap roots and softens the ground they're set in, who makes the work bearable and even sometimes joyful, who gives us warm delicious sun on our necks and a cool breeze and fresh air in our lungs, and a bunch of small brown birds having a lively discussion. Above all, God gives us the dream we can work toward--as I dream of a green, cool backyard, with a shelter in it for sitting in, something I can use in delight.

We can do with work out of guilt and shame ("what will the neighbours think?") But it goes so much better if we do the work out of love and gratitude for what we have been given to work with. If the soil out back is uneven, it's still God's good black dirt. That grass in the small side yard may be quack, but at least it's still sucking back all that carbon dioxide and pumping out oxygen. My yard may be a mess. But it's a promising mess. And with help, maybe it can reach that promise. God helping.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 1 Apr 2000
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