One of the best parts of gardening is that it provides space to think and listen. I find the Lord often has things to say when I’m quiet and working with my hands. Pursuing beauty for our home is also just really good for my soul. The outcome of the work is so rewarding. I enjoy the trips to Home Depot, the lists of what to plant where, visualizing the garden in my head, working to create it, then the immediate satisfaction of seeing the work of your hands…and living plants starting to grow.... I just love it!
I started a whole new flower garden along one side of our front yard. It was SO fun to see it unfold. As I worked my way along the fence towards the back of the yard I dug and planted and enjoyed stepping back and seeing beauty emerging slowly. But then I came to the bougainvillea bush. And that’s where the fun stopped.
I planted this bush about 15 years ago during one of my previous “beautify the yard” projects. It was about a foot tall when I bought it. I planted it carefully and placed a trellis behind it to give it stability. I thought the trellis would be so pretty too, with the bush and its red flowers growing up it. And it was, for a little while. But now, all these years later the bush stood about 20 feet tall and quite out of control. It was attaching itself to the side of the house, and to another tree near it and it was, in general, just a mess. The trellis was nowhere in sight. I wasn’t even sure where to start. All I knew was something had to be done. So, I started trimming and pulling and cutting. Branches were intertwined with other branches, some alive, some dead. Just for fun the bougainvillea also has huge one inch thorns. It was a battle! I was dripping with sweat and starting to see lines of blood on my arms where the thorns were grabbing. Am I the only one who goes through this madness of yard work? This was a long ways from enjoying my pretty little garden!
As I kept working the bush was slowly looking better and better, beauty and order were beginning to happen…then I looked closer. The base branches of the bush had grown through the small trellis and it was broken apart, woven in and through the large branches. Dead leaves were in the crevices between the branches. Dead leaves and who knows what else!
As I dug out the old leaves and broke apart the trellis and pulled it out, this thought hit me, “It would really be easier to start over.” I could cut the bush all the way back, or better yet, cut it down! Planting my new garden was so clean and easy. Dig a hole, fill with water, place the plant, cover with dirt. Done! No mess really, no wounds from huge thorns. And then the next thought came, “It is also sometimes easier to start over with people isn’t it?” Hm. Where did that come from?
I literally stopped working. Lord? Are we now having a conversation? Are You really comparing an overgrown bush to relationships? It was one of those very clear moments. Yes, that was exactly His point. So I continued to ponder…what was He trying to say?
My first thought was about marriage—how is this bush battle experience like marriage? Sometimes yes it does feel like it would be easier to start over. Too many days, months (years?) of neglect and things get very complicated and painful. For marriages to be healthy and strong there is a need for continual tending, I know this. Yes Lord, just like this bush…yes, very true. It’s easy to get busy and start going through the motions. And if I neglect my marriage, there will be dead leaves, overgrown branches and a not beautiful bush moving more and more towards chaos. The “trellis” that worked to support our marriage when we began 35 years ago, is completely ineffective now. We need new support systems. And thorns, yes there can be some pretty painful thorns in marriage. Forgiveness and patience are so essential. I could see my tendency to let things go to avoid conflict could easily lead to...well, a mess like the one I was looking at through dust and sweat. Lesson learned.
My second thought was about friendships—how is this bush battle like friendships? That wasn’t hard to figure out…if relationships get too complicated or hard or painful, it’s easier to let them drift away or cut them off, than to invest time and effort and brave our way through thorns and trimming branches. It’s less work to tend to new friendships. It’s like my newly planted garden…easy to water and enjoy. No weeds yet, no complications. But the beauty of my old bush, once cleaned and set in order, far exceeds the beauty of my young new plants. Old friendships go through seasons of change. It is not always easy to stay as life brings changes. It takes work. The effort, the sweat and tears that sometimes come with it, are all completely worth it…at least in my opinion. There is no friend like an old friend.
I will admit that sometimes I am weary of the work—in friendships and in marriage. My introvert self makes excuses. I get distracted by other tasks that I feel more able to do well. I greatly dislike conflict. And sometimes life just happens, and relationships grow into disrepair…just like my garden if I don’t make time and dig in, once again, a mess grows, literally!
Of course relationships are much more complicated than bougainvillea bushes. Unlike unruly plants, relationships involve two people. Sometimes we “trim each other” and then fight over the pain involved. Relationships require mutual decisions, not unilateral ones. When the branches involve my marriage, family, children or friendships, pruning may be met with some (strong) resistance. And who am I to say what should stay or go? Wisdom, love, listening, seeking to understand the other person, a willingness to engage and say hard things, and hear hard things, are all key…it is just hard work! Patience and determination, courage and vulnerability, are essential. I am finding that this work of growing and tending relationships over many years is always complicated, sometimes very hard, and usually full of rewarding movement.
I am enjoying my old, revived, bougainvillea bush. It has come back from my big trim to have more flowers and look even healthier than ever. When I see it I think of this God conversation. It is easier sometimes to start over, but it is well worth investing in the deep roots, thick branches, and beautiful flowers of my old bush. As I choose to work on my “old” relationships much in the same way, I am finding a rich reward. I am more and more willing to tend, to dig in, to pay attention and do the work. I am thrilled to report—beauty is growing here too…and I am so thankful.
"Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone's eyes. if possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12