This last week I had the opportunity to help a neighbor hand weed his black bean field. We weeded for a few hours, making a small dent in his thirty five acre field. Then we left for dinner, knowing that weeds would still be there later, waiting for us to attack them anew.
Staring at those plants for hours got me thinking. Weeds and gardens have been used as examples of life for generations. We compare it to our hearts, to our lives, and to our businesses. And it’s with good reason, there are a number of factors that make the common weed an excellent metaphor for anything. They are irritants, draining nutrition from what you’ve planted; Prolific in nature, you don’t have to plant them to get them; And perhaps most important: It takes work to get rid of them.
Weeds are everywhere in life, draining our energies and attention from the things we should be focusing on. They comprise not only the distractions, but the misdirections as well. There are times when we will drive ourselves crazy trying to accomplish seemingly important or significant things, only to discover that they end in futility and sorrow.
Morally, weeds are the vices that spring up in our hearts. They are those little sins we are annoyed by, but do nothing about. Like weeds, those little sins continue to grow until they are so large in our lives that they cannot be ignored.
No one wants to weed. It is a dirty (sometimes smelly) labor intensive effort. It requires taking time out of doing what we would rather do, to focus on something we didn’t want in the first place. For a time it can be ignored, pushed down the calendar for another day. But the longer you wait, the larger those weeds get and the harder they become to pull out of the field, and out of our lives.
Something many overlook in considering the metaphor for weeds and life is the soil everything grows in. Most weeds only grow in bad soil, or soil that is deficient in some particular nutrient needed for proper growth. The best way to avoid the hassle of weeding is to put the right fertilizers and manure into your soil. It should be regularly tested to ensure it proper and continued health.
In life we can avoid some of the weeds by working on our personal soils. Morally, we can fill our hearts and minds with the things that improve the nutrition: Reading Scripture, following the Commandments, living a virtuous life. In the more common ground, we can keep the weeds out of our everyday activities by maintaining the nutrition in our relationships and work environments, by again living a virtuous life and spending time with others who share the same values.
Here are a few quick ways to improve you soil:
- Read good books – Good ones, not merely the ever enjoyable novel, but the kind that teaches you the lessons of the past.
- Keep good company, or none at all – Your friends are one of the greatest reflections of who you are and who you will become. If you want to be a better person, make sure you are surrounded by friends who share your values.
When it comes to pulling weeds (because no matter how much you work your soil, you’ll still get a few), here are a few ideas for making it quicker and less painful.
- Identify the weed – If you can define or identify what the weed is, it’s far easier to remove and prevent in the future. You may have an idea that something is wrong, defining it quickly will help you form and attack strategy.
- View the history – Some fields grow certain weeds better than others, often because of poor nutrition in certain areas. What weeds do you grow consistently in your life? If you have an idea of where you might typically fail or fall short you can be better prepared to root out the weed when it develops.
- Prepare to get dirty – Pulling weeds is messy and can get dirty. Understand going in that it will take effort and won’t always be enjoyable. Drink plenty of water and be prepared to be a little uncomfortable.