And we’re not talking small rocks, either. We’re talking rocks that average the size of a large potato, and routinely come in softball, and football, and soccer ball size. Some places you couldn’t even get the shovel more than half an inch in the ground, there were so many rocks. So you’d have to back off a little, and work backwards until you found the edge of the thing, and lift it up out of the dirt. It was backbreaking, ridiculous work that had me constantly walking the line between satisfaction at seeing obvious, concrete progress being made, and despair at how hard you had to work to clear out even a tiny patch of ground.
Finally though, it was done for the year. I’d cleared out a section appropriate to the time I had to tend to it, and while it wasn’t yet the garden of my dreams, it produced good and tasty things.
So yesterday, during our absurdly spring-like Ash Wednesday, I got outside to reclaim the space I’d already cleared out, and to make this year’s modest expansion. As I turned the soil in the older area, I was astonished at how many rocks I was turning up. This was ground I’d cleared out last year, and yet there were nine bajillion rocks there again. True, they were smaller and easier to get at, but it was a far cry from the rock-free soil I’d imagined I’d had last year.
Things only got worse as I broke new ground, and one area in particular refused to yield more than an inch before my shovel hit rock. I backed up, tried again, hit it again. I tried another spot, and still couldn’t find the edge of this thing. Clearly, I was dealing with Boulderzilla.
In the midst of this epic battle of gardener vs. giant rock, I realized how many garden lessons I could apply to my observance of Lent:
1. Be mindful of your season of life.
That first year, I wanted to expand the garden beyond what my life at the time would allow. Ultimately though, something would break, and I’d either end up neglecting my primary duties, or neglecting the voluntary burden of the garden. Same with Lent. How many of us are faced with an aging parent, or the loss of a job, or the addition of a new baby, or any major event, and yet think we need to take on more sacrifices during Lent? Sometimes, God has already given us the means to purify ourselves and grow in holiness- we don’t need to add anything more. In fact, by doing so, we may miss out on fully taking advantage of the graces God wants to give us.
2. Listen to the advice of a trusted spiritual advisor.
My husband has known me since I was 13. He knows my strengths and my weaknesses. He knows when I’m being lazy and avoiding work, and when I’m trying to take too much on. Though I very much wanted to ignore him that first year and turn the whole front yard into a garden, I took his advice, and got my vegetable lust in check. In our spiritual life, we need someone who can also give us the perspective we often lack. And then we need the humility to listen to that perspective.
3. Start with what you already have.
Though that initial space of yard wasn’t the size or shape of the garden of my dreams, it was already there. True, it was buried under weeds, but it was something to work with, a starting point already forged. We can apply this to our Lenten disciplines when we start with what we already have. If you used to say a decade of the Rosary with your grandmother, why not start there? So what if you haven’t picked up your beads in 10 years, and will have to download an app to your phone to help you remember the prayers? Even if the memory of that devotion is covered over with vetch and crabgrass, it’s still there, and easier than starting over from scratch.