As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
I sink my blade into the ground and feel the satisfying crunch as I slice the roots. Yanking on the green tops of the pachysandra plants, I mercilessly toss them on the mound that’s forming on the grass nearby. My yearly battle with the invasive species that beautifully covers much of our shady front yard has begun.
Pachysandra and I have a love-hate relationship. I love that what started with a dozen or so plants from the garden center quickly grew into hundreds over a few years’ time. I love the way the ugly patches of dirt where grass wouldn’t grow under the heavy shade of tall oaks has become a luscious green, sprinkled with little white flowers every spring.
But the love stops there. This plant can’t be left to its own devices or it will overtake every inch of ground it can. During the busier seasons of my life, with a full-time job and four children to cart to school and activities, I often let my gardening go, later paying the price. When I finally had the time and inclination to spruce things up, the pachysandra had grown over my stone walking paths and into my adjacent flower beds. I spent days in back-breaking work cutting it back, digging a small trench, and inserting a rubber border “wall” to hold it at bay. It worked! At least for a season or two.
Frustratingly, it didn’t take long for the sneaky roots to wiggle their way under, over, or through the cracks in the wall. My husband, who helped with picking up and disposing of the unwanted plants, also learned that leaving even one stray plant in a pile of weeds tossed into the woods could produce more unending battles. We learned pachysandra could survive without even being planted. The roots reach for the soil on their own, sink their teeth in, and manage to grow. They take the “bloom where you are planted” mantra to a whole new level as they bloom, grow, and even flourish where they are NOT planted.
Cutting Back the Unruly Growth
I continue chopping, as I’ve learned to do every year in early spring, and ponder other areas of my life that “invasive species” have affected. One small idea planted in my head can often take off. Be it a worry, a desire, or a potentially addictive activity—if I don’t keep it in check, it will invade, crowding out the more important and beautiful areas of my life.
Like the plants that take over my flowerbeds, our worries can invade. Will that bothersome health issue be resolved? Will we have enough money to pay the bills this month? Will our child find a mate? Will that job or promotion come through?
To stop those worry-plants from invading our minds, we need to cut them back. With the blade of prayer, we can stop the cycle by giving our worries over to God, who says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6).
Our desires can also become invasive. Yearning for wealth and material things can start small, like a little plant shoot, but grow over time. No matter how many material blessings we have, our human nature is to want more. We store up our earthly treasures, even though moth and rust will eventually consume them. Other desires—success, fame, luxuries, and status symbols—also invade, as our minds and hearts focus on earthly goals.
Again, we need to prune back our invasive desires. Scripture reminds us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21). That’s difficult when we are so tied to this world and its many temptations, but through prayer and confession, the Holy Spirit can lead us to true contentment.
Finally, our lives are plagued with invasive addictions. My downfall is time-wasters: doom-scrolling, binge-watching, and game-playing. I also crave sugar and empty carbs, which, once the addiction cycle kicks in, can overtake even my best intentions for healthy nutrition. Like the roots of those invasive plants, our addictions creep in if we are not vigilant at holding them back. Other vices, like alcohol, drugs, and sex addictions can even destroy a life if the cycle continues.
God commands us to remove these destructive habits from our lives and to practice self-control in everything. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Finding balance and knowing our limits, while engaging in healthy habits and spiritual practices can steer us away from our addictions. Overcoming serious and chemical addictions might require the help of professional counselors or medical intervention.
Letting the Good Stuff Thrive
After I’ve cut back my unruly pachysandra plants, I look over my garden with satisfaction. The love for these lush, green plants returns, and I’m reminded of the beauty of having good things invade my life. Is it possible some invasive thoughts might bring beauty? Can they overtake the weeds and fill in the dead, barren places in our lives?
The Bible instructs us on seeking out “good things” to plant. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). When we focus on these things through the power of the Holy Spirit, our hearts and minds will grow closer to God. The love poured out through his son Jesus will grow in us and spread to others in ways that make our world more beautiful, more verdant, and full of life.
If we are to grow as vibrant citizens of the kingdom of God, we need to root out the destructive forces that can quickly overtake our lives. Then, like healthy garden plants, we can sink our roots into the soil, reading Scripture full of nutrients that will help us grow. We can reach our hands up like leaves, through prayer and worship, to receive the light. Doing so, we will become strong, bear fruit, and add beauty to God’s garden.
At the end of the day, I pick up the pile of plants that I’ve removed from my stone paths and flower beds. I throw most into the trash or onto the burn pile. But I select a few of the “good ones” and move them to a brown spot where the grass won’t grow. I throw a little dirt over the roots and know that given time, they will grow into a lush bed of plants. Then I send a few photos to family and friends, letting them know I have “Free groundcover!” With the goodness freely given to me, I have love to share!
About the Author
- Linda Hanstra, a semi-retired speech-language pathologist, writes about what brings joy to her empty nest–faith, family, cycling, traveling, grandparenting, and more–at lindahanstra.com and on Substack. The author of Lent through the Little Things, Linda and her husband, Tom, attend Church of the Savior CRC in South Bend, Indiana.