I watched as my dad walked toward the gate that opened into my vegetable garden and pathetically asked him not to go in. Not that it made much of a difference whether he went in or not; the weeds were growing right through the fence, too conspicuous to miss. But I didn’t want him to look too closely at how neglected the garden was, how the weeds had gotten bigger than the plants themselves, how the produce that had somehow managed to survive my severe neglect hung on the plants, bulging and over ripe. I had started the gardening season out strong and had kept up well at the beginning. But life happened, as it so often does when you are raising small children, and my commitment to being a gardener had dwindled. My dad turned and looked at me and went through the gate anyway, like I knew he would. And I decided at that moment that I was going to quit gardening. Because, why bother? I obviously wasn’t any good at it anyway.
Sometimes I allow myself to have that same attitude about things far more important than gardening. Tragically, I can take on this thinking toward my parenting and my spiritual growth as well. When I had planned and laid out my garden in the spring I had great intentions for the amount of time I was going to spend caring for it. I had an image in my mind of what my garden could have been. I know what a successful garden is supposed to look like. Likewise, I have ideas in my head about how I want to invest my time and energy with my family, specific disciplines I want to practice in my spiritual life, ideals I want to live up to. But too often I wonder, why even bother? It’s challenging and I feel awkward. I want to read aloud to my kids, but I don’t have more than five minutes to spare – not nearly enough time. I want to spend more time in God’s Word, but I haven’t found just the right book or study to go through. I try to have meaningful conversations with my children, but I’m not very good at it and my words come out wrong. How easily I can let the pursuit of the ideal crowd out the good enough.
Having gigantic weeds in my garden does not mean I’m a failure. It just means I tried doing something worthwhile that I’m not really great at. If what I’m pursuing is worthwhile and meaningful it doesn’t really matter that much if it lives up to the ideal or not. But we live in a culture that tells us to do it right or not at all, to go big or go home, and I think we can allow our drive toward getting it right to cause us to miss out on some truly meaningful things. I’m certainly not trying to say we shouldn’t do our best or that we should allow ourselves to simply coast through our lives. I’m saying that if you only have a little bit to give, it’s still worth giving. Even if you feel awkward or inadequate, unprepared or unqualified. Meaningful investments of your time and energy are still worthwhile, however imperfectly done.
I’ve learned a few things about gardening this year amidst all I’ve done wrong. Mostly I’ve learned that I need to plant a smaller garden in the future. But I don’t think I’ll quit. Because I want that garden to be a reminder to me that it’s okay to move imperfectly toward the worthwhile things in my life – things like my family and my Savior.