Friday, May 7, 2010

Church Talk, as Primary President, March 2010

We were given the topic “Nourish the Seed with Great Care” to speak on today. The title of my talk is “Seeds and Weeds”.

Gardening

I love gardening. I like getting my hands dirty, clearing away the weeds, watching my little plants grow as things of beauty, enjoying the flowers and fragrances, harvesting the herbs to season my food, mint for my tea, and fruit to eat. I like taking my kitchen scraps and working it back into compost, so that instead of creating more waste, I am conserving nutrients and energy.

Last year, we couldn’t have a garden because we moved here in the middle of summer. That was hard on me. It wasn’t the harvest that I missed so much as the work and the connection to the earth and her subtly changing seasons. I did yard work, clearing rubble, mowing the lawn and trimming the little bushes that we hope one day will be a hedge, but without the same satisfaction. But yesterday, Clint and I worked together and started our compost bins. The work for our garden has begun.

One of the things I like best about gardening is the transience of it. You have to work to create order and beauty, but in the end, it will all die.

(We were told by a neighbor of the beautiful garden that used to be in our yard. And then it was asphalt. And now it’s tempermental grass and a rubble choked, goathead infested dirt plot with a truly ugly fence and an anemic little hedge.)

Gardening is a work with transient results, but it is not futile. If we garden long enough through a season, we will reap a harvest. If we use good practices over time, we can enrich the soil, establish strong trees and herbs and bulbs that will make a little corner of the earth more beautiful for a time, a beauty that may persist despite neglect and be revived by a new gardener in the future.

The best fruit harvested gardening is the change wrought within the gardener because of the work. In the work of cultivating life and beauty, we are given life and beauty.

(Growing up, my neighbors always had a beautiful garden. They taught me to pick cotton and dig for peanuts. Mrs. Walker swept off my bottom with a broom before I could enter the house. She died when she was 90. Mr. Walker kept on going, old and frail as he was, climbing on the roof to repair it and tilling out the garden. The year he couldn’t plant his garden was the year he died. He needed the work to live.)

I believe that living the gospel is much like caring for a garden. We choose to plant certain seeds, constantly try to rid ourselves of unwanted weeds, and work our whole lives, knowing that in the end, our work alone is insufficient. We will always be in debt to God for our hope of redemption just as we are indebted for the very earth we plunge our hands into. Our efforts, no matter how great, will never be enough to save ourselves. But we are transformed by our work, spiritual and physical, and that granted change gives us meaning in life and hope of redemption.

Seeds

Enough of physical gardening. What are the spiritual seeds we plant that we want to nourish with great care?

The obvious first is the gospel, the very ideas we have embraced enough to be here today. Faith in God, in Christ. A belief that this church is directed by God, and that by being a part of the community it creates, that we will draw closer to God. These little seedings need constant tending.

Another set of spiritual seeds are the covenants we make. I firmly believe that inasmuch as we strive to live our covenants, we will be given strength and purpose. I don’t believe that I will ever, in my life, be able to live up to the covenants I’ve made. I will always fail in bearing another’s burden or consecrating all that I have to the church, but that by struggling to fulfil these covenants, I am approaching God. (Think of calculus—I am approaching what I need to become, the limit, although I will never reach it.) But I’ll be damned if I don’t try to live up to those covenants. My progress will be halted, I’ll be cut off from the fount of inspiration and cut off from the presence of God. The plants that spring from the seed of covenants are in my garden for life.

A last seed is a calling. These may be seeds that we only plant because we feel obligated to do so. We recognize the value of them, but do not particularly want to have this plant growing in our little garden. (Why would you plant okra if you hate the sliminess of it, even if that is one of the key ingredients to making gumbo so delicious?)

I never had aspirations to be a primary president. And I never thought I would be any good as a primary president if called. I had an image in my mind of what you might call the platonic ideal of a primary president. She would be kind and gracious. Sing well, make adorable crafts with the children, know all of their names and be overly sentimental about them and her calling. Cry whenever she bears her testimony about how much she loves each and every one of the children. Visit the homes and families of children who cannot come to church. And so on.

You can see that I had mixed feelings about the calling. And that is why I was so shocked when Bishop Worthen called me to be primary president here. But this seed I would never have chosen has started to grow in me. The more I work on cultivating it, the better I am able to serve. It surprises me all the time. I am more willing to talk to people in church I haven’t met. I am drawn to children’s faces and want to help them.

I had always held the attitude that the work I do at church should benefit the people who make the effort to come, whether I was teaching a class on Sunday or organizing an enrichment meeting, or planning a primary activity. If you come, it should be worth your time. If you don’t come, your loss. This calling, this little budding seed, is changing my attitude. Now I am concerned for my missing children. I want the best for them, I want to give them tools to realize their potential for good and happiness in this life. I found myself holding back tears at our last presidency meeting, as we talked about including a little child, not a member, who lives here in our ward. Some children have the deck stacked against them. It’s not fair. And to my surprise, in this position, I feel the call to help even the odds, to reach out and embrace these children. (And so, against expectation, I have grown to be sentimental, and I do love the children.

Weeds

These seeds we plant, our covenants, our faith and hope, our aspirations and goals, do not exist in a vacuum. Our hearts are not clean little garden plots where we plant the one and only seed of the gospel. We are not planting these seeds in sterile soil where nothing else can grow. To skip briefly to another agricultural parable, consider the wheat and the tares. The righteous and the wicked who will be burned as stubble at the second coming of our Lord. The wheat, that’s good seed. That’s who we want to be. The tares, they’re just weeds.

Invasive weeds are plants that do not belong in a certain area. They are not native to the place they invade, and once they come, they destroy the equilibrium, the natural balance that had existed prior to their arrival. They first take hold in areas that have been disturbed, where the naturally occurring vegetation has been removed. Think of verge on either side of the road or construction zones where destructive weeds take hold. Then they spread.

What weeds are growing in the garden of your heart? What kudzu is dominating the thoughts of your mind? What invasive weeds have taken root in the fragile disturbed areas of your soul?

And remember that by clearing a little patch of ground to garden, you are disturbing the soil, creating an open invitation for opportunistic weeds. If you make changes in your life, even good ones, like trying to read the scriptures more or going to the temple, you are, by that very change, making your soul vulnerable, to pain, frustration and temptation. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, how hard it is to do the right thing.

Even if you aren’t making drastic changes, sometimes they come to you. Depression puts a person in a very fragile state that weeds of doubt, guilt, shame and anger thrive in. And they are incredibly difficult to uproot when you are so weak. When I had post partem depression, even praying and reading scriptures regularly could not ease my mind or clear the weeds from my thoughts.

I believe in the power of affirmations, the repeated phrase of what you hope to be true, of what you need to be true. This mantra got me through post-partum depression: I am gentle and loving and kind. I listen and speak softly. I am a good mother. I love my children.
At the time, I couldn’t believe any of those things. If I didn’t feel numb and emotionally dead, I felt unspeakable sorrow, or sudden flashes of fierce violent anger. I was beset by
negative, painful, self destructive thoughts, as unwanted and painful as the goatheads that litter the plot of dirt we hope to garden.
So I repeated my mantra, what I hoped could be true. Every conscious repetition was an act of cultivating my thoughts. When the critical, belittling voices in my head attack, I quietly breathe and counter them with what I choose to believe, halting the progress of the noxious weeds in my mind.

Sunday School lessons, for adults, are not to teach, but to remember, to be sure that we are all still growing the same variety of plants in our internal gardens.

So let us all work. Let us toil and till. Let us nurture our faith and community. Let us cling to our covenants and gain strength from them and delight in the blooms of un-sought-for callings.

Go to your gardens, go to the quiet spaces in your soul. Take stock of what is growing there. Cultivate and strengthen those seeds, those plants, whose fruit you want to harvest. Cull out the even encroaching weeds, so that you may be a sanctuary of order and beauty, that the fruits of your field may be an acceptable offering before God.

4 comments:

Gina said...

Amen.

Matt and Rebecca Walsman said...

beautiful. i still remember some of the mother's day talk you gave here. you have a good heart in you rachel whipple.

Glenn and Natalie said...

So well written. Thank you for sharing! I've missed reading your thoughts.

Jam said...

Ok--I might quote you in my talk this Sunday. you have an amazing way with words! Thanks Rachel---thanks for sharing!!!