I love yardwork.
Perhaps it is because I spend nine months at a boarding school where others plant, prune, rake, and thin that I can appreciate the short summer I spend cultivating my own small yard.
There is something holy about bringing order to tangled spaces, to impose defined upon chaos.
There is joy in growing grass, especially after such a stubborn winter, but there is also a joy in cutting it back, forcing it to align with our own vision, confining it the the places we ordain.
In one of my favorite poems, “Pied Beauty,” Gerard Manley Hopkins writes:
There is something to be said of a topography that is plotted and trim; life is infinitely more messy than that.
On the way up the Cardigan access road this month, I saw a momma moose galumping into the woods, two frisky toddlers in tow. The little mooselings did as they pleased, butting and rearing behind her, and the look she gave them over heavy shoulder was one I remembered well.
My mother used to have a magnet on her fridge, before she became too frail to access even the lightest foodstuff from its cold interior and had to be fed by others. It decreed, Raising children is like being pecked to death by a chicken.
I’m sure momma moose would agree.
I know I sometimes do.
I have one boy, a walking crime scene, who leaves a trail of puddle and mess throughout the house, another who needs his meat cut because his one arm is in a sling, and a grown-up girl who has at last discovered that hiking in a desert is hot and could-you-please-send-me-an-umbrella-mom.
We cannot (alas) control our children any more than we can control the constant upping of the grass or the clouding of the sky.
So how do we do life when it feels like all of our hard efforts are being constantly pecked apart, dismantled, overrun, like a constant sequence of concession-then-compromise: feed the cat, let her out, lose weight, put it back on, open this, delete that.
Health, disease, love, betrayal, vigor, death.
Perhaps we would like our circumstances to be something more akin to gardening, where we allow that vine to reach only so far but no farther before halting its progress with a precise snip.
Perhaps, instead, we need to look for the pattern in the plot.
It’s there, just as Hopkins suggests.
“Pied Beauty” concludes:
Lest I forget, there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens – times to plant and times to uproot, times to be born and times to die, times to weep and times to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3)
I am entering one of those times, a new season, right now, where all that mourning, tearing, warring, scattering, searching – all of that hard – has only prepared me for the joyful challenge that awaits.
King Solomon, the wisest man of his time, knew all about this. That no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end; that finding satisfaction in all of our toil is the gift of God; that everything God does will endure forever.
God makes everything beautiful in its time.
He controls the times and the seasons, not me.