I recently went on a four-day silent retreat at a local abbey. My friend made me promise her that I would sing “Climb Every Mountain” on a hill.
I did not.
Not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t. It was a silent retreat. Also, the hillside terrain was rocky and cliffy, less for twirling in delight and more for falling to imminent death.
So, what did I learn while I was out there? A few things:
- Four days of silence and complete seclusion from the material world is life-changing.
- The material world is in a huge hurry for no reason whatsoever.
- My life is unnecessarily cluttered for no reason whatsoever.
- I’d do okay as a cloistered nun. (I love the idea of not having to do my hair. Ever.)
But, most importantly, I learned the difference between weeds and wheat. Yes, weeds n’ wheat, which would make an excellent name for a line of bagged salads. During my retreat, a Benedictine nun much wiser than me explained the parable of the man who sowed good wheat seed in his field, but later his enemies came and sowed weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). The weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest when the weeds were separated and burned. For all the times that I’ve heard this parable, I’ve always assumed that non-faithful folks were the weeds and the ones who served God were the wheat.
And that’s correct.
But Sister shared that there’s a more personal aspect to this parable. Sometimes, we grow wheat within ourselves and other times we grow weeds. We go through life with both good and bad traits and find at some point we have to pick and choose what we’ll keep to shape our future. The life we live, the choices we make, the company we keep, can all be weeds and wheat.
So, how can we discern the weeds from wheat so we know what to pick and what to leave?
Fill up time with things for God
As you nurture and grow your relationship with God, you want to make changes in life. And often that begins with getting rid of habits and traits (the weeds) that aren’t beneficial. For me, that was my pride, selfishness, and fear of what others would think. In time, as I continued to work on that relationship, I found those things became less important until they were completely gone.
Put energy into the most important places and forget the rest
By using energy to foster the things in life that bring us closer to God, it becomes easier to remove the things in life that we don’t need. For me, I find that I get sucked into the daily routine of my family life. I place too much significance on the sink full of dishes and the never-ending to-do list until I’m completely stressed out. Rather, my energy needs to be on work that must get done and spending time with my family and maybe squeeze in a few minutes for prayer.
There is probably no better way to see your weeds and your wheat than going into a confessional and laying it all out to see. Often, I’ll go into confession with a few things on my mind, and I’ll walk out with a greater understanding of my flaws. Over the course of a few weeks, the root always starts to show itself. If you want a fast way to change your life, the confessional is the place to make it happen.
Humble yourself to serve others in need. I did some volunteer work at a local hospital in their chemotherapy room. I spent my shift getting drinks and warm blankets for people undergoing therapy. Occasionally, someone would feel like visiting, but it wasn’t often. What I did there wasn’t any kind of super-heroic thing, but it showed me that these people were battling something that was bigger than anything I’ve ever had to face in my life. Very little in life has brought me the same joy as those weeks I spent warming towels and hustling back and forth to the cooler for ice water for everyone who needed it.
Find uplifting people to befriend
When you situate yourself around people who are spiritually fulfilled, it’s contagious. Likewise, if you situate yourself with people who have the wrong agenda, it’s also contagious. I try to challenge myself to be around people who have a greater grasp of their faith. It challenges me to better my own.
Limit your exposure to social media
The wrong websites and the wrong online “friends” can be a waste of time and a distraction from the real things in life you should be focusing on. For example, finding pages that offer daily inspiration is a good thing. Taking quizzes on what kind of potato chip you are, not such a great thing. Falling into a rabbit hole of useless articles, tips, threads of angry disagreements are not good, but easy to get sucked into. So, be mindful of how you use social media. Also, cat memes are never a waste of time.
Pray. Praaaaaaaaaaay the day away. For me, the best time to pray is at night, when I can completely focus. Two years ago I gave up TV at night to pray the Rosary. During the day, I try to make an effort to talk to God at least five or six times about something specific happening in my day. It’s never anything exciting, but it reminds me that he is always there listening.
When the weeds are out, there’s an overwhelming sense of peace and sometimes a glimpse of the joy only God can give. When you weed correctly, it’s much easier to manage any new growth in your life, both positive and negative. In the two years I’ve been working on my prayer life and my relationship with God, I’ve found that my perspective on life is a lot more centered on him. I find myself noticing the small miracles every day. A random cool breeze while I’m jogging on a hot day, the person who held the door open for me at the dentist, or the woman who bought an item for me that the cashier didn’t see in my cart until after I had already paid.
I still grow plenty of weeds, and I don’t always notice them right away, but a majority of the weeds that I had in myself, the ones that kept me from being the person I know I can be, those are gone. Thanks to God. Now, it’s my job to be vigilant and make sure they don’t take over again.