Helicopter Gardening

He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

July 22, 2023, Words By: Kristy Humphreys, Image By: unknown

Have you ever had to teach a child how to weed? I love working in my garden — watching the plants come back spring after spring — and I’m trying to pass on the joy of all things green and growing to my own little sprouts. I remember working with my mom in her garden and being genuinely confused about what counted as a plant, and what counted as a weed. 

I wasn’t always great at telling the difference, and now I’m the one hovering over my kids trying to point out: “This plant — good.” “This plant — bad.” “Don’t dig so deep!” “You’re stepping on the flowers!” But I wonder if my helicopter gardening is doing more harm than good to my blossoming horticulturists. After all, do I want my kids to develop a love of gardening? Or just become expert weeders? 

In this week’s text, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Someone sows weeds in a field of wheat, and the workers are concerned, wanting to uproot the offending vegetation immediately. The Master, however, is surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing. Just wait, you guys. If you try to weed now, you’re gonna tear up the wheat too. Be patient. I’ve got this.

Now, we’re not talking about a bunch of obvious yellow dandelions in a field of wheat. The weeds are likely referring to Darnel, a poisonous plant that is essentially wheat’s insidious doppelganger. The workers’ intentions aren’t bad, they’re just trying to protect the harvest. But what the master is pointing out is that they are largely unqualified to tell the difference. And in the attempt to root out what they “think” are weeds, they’re going to inadvertently do a whole lot of damage in the process. 

Most of my life, I’ve relied on my ability to pull up behavioral “weeds” to prove my goodness, my worthiness, and my faithfulness. I feel like the workers in this parable are a type of agricultural metaphor for perfectionism. They have an anxious energy that I can relate to. But the older I get, the more I realize how much this neurosis about my own goodness is, well, toxic, much like Darnel in a field of wheat. My instinct is to identify and root out anything “bad” in my life. As if I could earn God’s approval and love through my perfectionism. In the process, I’ve done violence to my own soul, and I’m certain to others’ souls as well. I definitely see this in the anxious energy I now bring to parenting — in helicopter gardening, yes, but also in a reactive need to control or modify my kids’ behavior or protect them from any negative influences. 

I don’t think wanting to be good is a bad thing, nor is wanting to protect my children. The problem is when I am driven by fear or allow myself to believe the lie that God’s approval and love is dependent on how good of a weeder I am. There is also a dangerous sort of smugness and rivalistic attitude that allows me to feel like God will love me more because, look at how weed-free my garden is! Never mind the trail of trampled flowers and uprooted wheat in my wake. What damage we do (that I do) when this obsession with goodness and keeping life weed free overshadows what God is allowing to grow. After all, God is the “Lord of the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). 

The past couple of years I have distinctively felt that I am on a journey to discover my own belovedness in Christ. To stop acting from a place of fear that God’s love is conditional, and rest in the identity I have that comes from a God of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. In his book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr talks about how knowing God is a bit like looking at the moon. We can spend a lot of time arguing about who is pointing at the moon the most correctly and who has the best moon-viewing methodology… or we can just enjoy the beauty of the moon, and in doing so invite others to do the same! That feels similar to the invitation I read in this week’s parable. To lean fully into the goodness of God, instead of trying to prove my own. 

Made Flesh

How is your own goodness project being revealed for what it is — a weed that chokes the life out of your garden?

About The Author

Kristy Humphreys