Summer can be a weedy time, and not just for the garden. Many of us feel like we’re “supposed” to be vacationing and having beautiful Instagram moments, but the bills are still coming, our questions and struggles are still present, our relationships and our souls need care. We may feel buried by demand, whether real or imagined. It may be hard to bear spiritual fruit if the weeds of anxiety or distraction are choking out our energy and capacity to have a conscious life with God.
My friend Joey, who is a serious golfer, told me that the challenge of being buried out in the high grass or “fesk” as he calls it (short for fescue grass) is not just about getting your ball out or taking the penalty stroke. The hardest part is the acceptance of where you’re at (temporarily lost or set back) and the mental resolve to stay in the game after your confidence has taken a hit.
Jesus told a story about a son who was in the weeds for awhile. He asked for his inheritance early and went out to establish himself in a distant land. He wanted to get out from under the influence of his father, it seems, and ended up enslaved to the influence of his own desires. When the money was gone and the party friends disappeared, he found himself in the humiliating circumstance of not even being able to care for himself. He took a humiliating job (feeding pigs) and realized that the servants in his father’s house were better off than he was. They had more belonging and more purpose, as well as a better shot at survival. He decided to go home and confess his foolishness to his father and ask for mercy. Maybe he could just get a job on the family farm like the other servants.
His father’s heart must have been on the horizon the whole time, because when he saw his son stumbling toward home in the distance, he ran out to embrace him. I can imagine the depth of knowing and understanding in that embrace. There was no way the father would allow him to work as a servant; they were family. Owners of the estate together. There was no need for shaming or punishing lectures. The son had suffered at his own hands to discover who he is really is: beloved child, an heir, a partner. The father surrounds him with honor and throws a big party to express his love.
This story could be everyone’s truest story, and for most of us it’s on repeat. Because unlike Jordan Spieth, most of us do spend time in the weeds. Confession and repentance is better as a daily practice than a one-time salvific experience. As we find ourselves trying to muscle it out in the distant land of independence, it is important to be aware of when we feel depleted, because we are important. The moment with the pigs is a good one if we can see what’s going on and remember that we have a Savior who parents us into partnership. We are not the losers we we think we are, even if we have been squandering our inheritance. We are beloved offspring of an eternal God who want to give us the kingdom, even in our most needy moments.
If you’re trying to come home from the demands of independence, it may help to do something different: make the meeting, join the cell, call a friend who has faith, gather a compassion team or other project that requires God to even get off the ground. You could also start with something as simple as a “help me Jesus” prayer. If you’re looking for a regular, heart-to-heart way to connect with God, the old Ignatian prayer practice below might be useful in the turning toward home—the reality of God’s recreative work in all things, and especially in you, his beloved daughter or son. Like in golf, we often need help accepting that we’re in the weeds along with encouragement to stay in the game and turn in the direction that God is leading.
The Daily Examen
1. Quiet yourself and recall that you are in the presence of God.
2. Ask God to assist you in making the examination. (Yes, it’s hard to pray but God will meet our capacity.)
3. Think about your day with attention to your emotion. Ask where God might have been present in the sights, sounds, sensations and events of your day (moments of consolation.) Hold them for a moment with gratitude. You may want to choose one that seems worth exploring further.
4. Consider where you may have turned away from God’s desires for you in your choices or actions (moments of desolation.)
5. Confess to God and pray to use this insight as you move forward.