We have several flower gardens at our home. In the right season, they produce some really extraordinary flowers that fill our yard with a beautiful array of colors. My wife gets all the credit there. I really don’t do much to help with them. Well, I don’t step on them. I guess that helps. But as far as the planting and maintenance goes, she is in charge. I’ve been known to mulch, but I do not weed. I can’t stand it. Seriously. I think I would rather eat the weeds with a nice vinaigrette than remove them with that two-pronged thing. It’s possible I may have been involved in some undisclosed childhood weed incident that my parents aren’t talking about yet. I’m looking into it.
Regardless, with all gardens there are weeds. I didn’t make up the rules but that’s the way it is. As sure as death and taxes, there are weeds. And contrary to popular belief, they don’t just go away. I may not be a “botanist” or a “horticulturist” or any other kind of “ist” but I know enough to know that if I see a weed and don’t do anything about it, it’s not going away. Most likely it will actually keep growing and be even bigger the next time I walk past and do nothing. Over time, it sinks its roots down deep into the ground. It may even bud some flowers. After a while you just become accustomed to seeing it there. Ignored long enough, it may just be the only thing left.
I would never describe myself as an angry person. I am fairly quiet and when really bothered by something or someone, I am much more likely to internalize than to express my anger outwardly. Unless I’m driving. That’s a whole other story. I learned to drive in New Jersey. My mom taught me the driving philosophy that “everyone else on the road is an idiot.” Sorry. She doesn’t specifically mean you. That is unless you were the red Jeep Cherokee with Pennsylvania plates that cut me off earlier. In that case you may take it personally. But besides the boldness that comes with auto lock doors and a gas pedal, I really would be surprised if someone described me as “angry.” A lot of us would agree. Honestly though, I think it may be because our definition of anger is a bit off.
It’s easy to identify “the angry guy.” He’s the one that is raising his voice above the rest, face bright red and shouting things that make no sense because the velocity and volume at which they are projecting from his mouth is greater than the velocity of reason and rationality travelling from the brain to the mouth. We would be right to say this guy just “verbally exploded” on his victim. It does not take a therapist to diagnose that this guy is angry. He is. Really angry.
But what about the guy that doesn’t turn red and spit verbal shards of glass? What about people like me who, when angered, just take the offense deep within themselves and soak it in? What about people like me who take in hurt so deeply that we must build walls to avoid getting hurt again? While “angry guy” embarrassingly spews everything out, he probably feels much better and is a lot less angry when all is said and done. But people like me though, the people who go deep with our anger, we don’t feel better. We just wait it out. Sometimes for a really long time.
Some of us are still waiting.
At the risk of sounding like a greeting card, I believe our hearts are like gardens. I don’t think this is too far of a stretch because in one of his stories, Jesus described the heart as soil that a farmer is scattering seed upon. Just like a garden, when the heart is right, it is extraordinarily beautiful. Just like a garden, when the heart is right, people can’t help but notice and want to be around. And, just like all gardens, weeds have a way of creeping in. Something happens to you and you are angered…you become angry. A weed begins to shoot from the ground. It’s usually not hard to identify. “Whoa…that’s not a flower.” At this point, you are faced with a decision…”do I deal with it or just walk past, hoping it will go away on its own?” This weed is threatening the beauty and growth of the garden. In the same way that I really hate weeding, I even more hate dealing with anger. It’s so much easier just to live with whatever or whoever angered me in the first place and pretend like it’s not there. Seems easier at least. I often decide just to let the weed grow. Maybe it won’t be noticeable. Heck, it may even flower and bring some attention. What happens next though is anything but beautiful. The weed begins to sink its roots down deep into the soil of the heart. These are the roots of bitterness. Someone once said that bitterness is the poison we drink hoping it kills someone else. It is the voice that reminds us why we are angry in the first place and why we should stay angry. The roots begin to tangle their way through the rest of the garden, shooting up throughout and choking out the flowers. Soon, the weeds take a beautiful heart and turn it very ugly. The heart is consumed. The garden is ruined.
The writer of the book of Hebrews in Scripture says it this way; “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
It seems like the choice is ours…kill the weeds or kill the garden.
From a distance, it seems like there really is no choice to be made – you have to kill the weeds. That’s what makes sense and yet, a lot of times, we don’t. Many of us don’t deal with it because we think it is something that can be left that way. It can’t. I’ve tried. Several years back, I was forced to deal with a lot of anger and bitterness. To put it mildly, I was a mess of weeds. It’s amazing how self-deceiving we can be. I thought I was okay. I thought because I didn’t yell, I wasn’t angry. But the weeds were there and showed up in small ways. I trusted with caution. I loved with hesitation. I had the relational capacity of a skeptic, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was just so guarded. So…distant. My heart was anything but beautiful to be around.
I remember the day I killed the weeds.
It was after hearing my teaching pastor talk about forgiveness. He said that forgiveness is seeing the debt someone owes you and being willing to say “I’m not collecting.” That hit me deeply because that was my deal- I was still waiting to collect. I wasn’t plotting revenge through a series of menacing deeds but I held onto the debt the same. I just wanted it to be even. I wanted the scales of justice to balance out. I wanted my name cleared. I was waiting for a letter, an email, a phone call saying “I made a terrible mistake. I was wrong.” I would have settled for an “I’m sorry.”
In that moment, as those words rang both painful and hopeful in my ears, I made a decision- a decision that was as much simple as it felt impossible. I stopped collecting. Seriously. I’m not just saying that. In the midst of a bitterness that was choking the life right out of me, I stopped collecting. I felt the weeds that had been coursing through my heart die right then and there. I felt the cold roots of bitterness ripped from the earth. Through strength that was not my own, I completely freed my debtors. And that day, I myself was freed.
I no longer wait for that phone call. Would it be nice? Sure, but I don’t need it. They don’t need it. They’re already forgiven.
Am I forever delivered from the temptation to go deep with my anger? Certainly not. I still really struggle with this. A lot. But through this one victory, in the moment that I ripped the weeds from the hard soil, it revealed a freedom I had forgotten…a better way of living. Simply put, things began to green up again. Though by no means easy, this gives me hope that the hard work of forgiveness really is worth it.
Kill the weeds or kill the garden.