At one of our team meetings in 2014, a colleague was talking about her beautiful yard, about the perennials she had planted and moved over the weekend, and about the stubbornness of some of the weeds in her yard. I remember that we had two distinctly different reactions to those weeds. I laughed and said, “Ah, a weed is just a plant growing somewhere you don’t want it to.” I’d read that somewhere, and thought it was clever. But then another team member said something truly clever that’s stuck with me: “Weeds are perennials, aren’t they?” I think we both betrayed our dislike with yardwork, albeit in different ways. But I’ve remembered those lines for a long while.
Weeds are simply things that grow – and continue to grow – where we don’t want them to. We employ lots of different strategies to deal with weeds. We dose them with poison to kill them off. We pull them out, hoping to get the full roots out (but never actually doing so entirely successfully). We replant or rehome them somewhere else, perhaps where they are meant to flourish. My personal favorite is to ignore them until they’ve completely taken over, then deal with them all at once in a panic, cursing as I do so. All of these take time, energy, and occupy time in our heads, either by unsuccessful avoidance or thinking about which strategy will be best.
We also might decide to make peace with these stubborn and impractical plants, pruning and otherwise managing them, but accepting that they will always be present. Perhaps we might even find a use for them, such as adding dandelion leaves to our spring salads.
The secret is, I think, not to see the weeds as a distraction from the yardwork or the goal of a lovely garden, but to see the weeds as part and parcel of both the work and the goal. They may be stubborn and unwelcome, but they are not apart from what we are trying to cultivate. Because the thing is, what’s a weed to someone is great beauty to another. There are these beautiful thistles that grow in some places – they are a deep annoyance to farmers, but they make for a striking photograph or centerpiece.
Our team in the national offices of the UCC is trying to cultivate ministerial excellence, support and authorization in the United Church of Christ. That’s our garden. And boy, do we have some weeds in there! I don’t mean ministers who are stubborn or unethical, or at least I don’t mean just that. There are things in our work that seem like distractions or deadly pitfalls or inconveniences or responsibilities that just aren’t ours. This year feels like a year in which we are both taking on a laser focus in our work, and a year in which we are getting new responsibilities, so there’s great potential for weeds of all sorts to crop up in our garden.
I shared something in our team that might be useful for my half-dozen readers here. Will you take a moment to think about what some of the “weeds” in our work might be in the coming year? Don’t think about how to deal with them, just think about them. Maybe name them out loud. You don’t to plan right now how or which strategies you are going to use to deal with them, of course. But this is a reminder that lots of things are going to try to distract us from our work this year. My prayer for 2016 is that we can pull what we need to, make peace with what is going to have to stay in our garden for another year (or more), and build upon the work that’s already been done in this garden (by others and by us) to make this part of the United Church of Christ even more beautiful and useful, stronger and healthier, better than ever.