Beware of Life’s Beguiling Buttercups
by Deacon Christine Maddux
When my husband and I moved into our cottage in March, the yard was a mysterious jungle, trampled down by winter and giving no hint of what lay beneath the thicket of broken brown stalks. We hired two strong young men to hack through the tangles, haul out years of overgrowth, and remove teetering trees. When they finished, the centerpiece maple tree had room to display its graceful canopy, and we discovered a path of flagstones that had been hidden in the undergrowth beneath it. The path led to nothing, so we put a decorative iron cross at its end.
The cleanup was drastic; the yard was shorn like a Marine recruit’s head. But not for long! With spring came vigorous regrowth of what we have now learned was the previous homeowner’s vision of an English country garden. With childlike curiosity we have watched it burst into life. What are all these plants? Will they bloom? Which are weeds?
Soon the jungle was back, but now green, blooming, and buzzing with pollinators. Several peony bushes began unfurling their exuberant pom-poms, hydrangeas leafed out robustly, and lilies-of-the-valley decked my garden walk (happily evoking the “White Coral Bells” ditty of my childhood).
Little yellow flowers also cropped up, simple and charming. But before we learned that they were the rapacious creeping buttercups, they had spread their grasp throughout the garden, coyly overtaking their neighbors. Other plants (still unidentified) were crowding the peonies, hiding their bodacious blooms. And the path to the cross was disappearing once more.
It reminded me of what happens so easily in our spiritual lives, where even after a vigorous Lenten clean-out, it is not long before beguiling little things can choke out our good intentions, lesser overgrowth can overshadow the best, and the path to the cross can get lost once more. Jesus taught us about this using the Parable of the Four Soils (recorded in the Bible in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8), where He explained that the seed is the word of God, which will fade or thrive depending on the kind of “soil” that receives it.
Many of us are like my garden, fertile soil for the word of God that we read or hear; yet as our faith tries to grow, it is like the seed in the parable that fell among thorns. As Jesus explained, “This is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). This can happen in innocent ways or nefarious ways, with the same result: unfruitfulness.
Some things we let into the garden of our life are as beguiling as buttercups, attractive and perhaps worthwhile at the start, but soon jumping their boundaries and overtaking our time and attention, to the detriment of the greater “blooms” God has in mind for us. This kind (e.g., hobbies, social media, fitness regimens, good works we are not called to do, etc.) have to be continually pruned back.
Other kinds are sinful from the start, like a peek at pornography, a flirtation with someone else’s spouse, or cheating our employer of our honest effort. We can’t just prune these – “sin management” is not the answer. We need to get down on our knees and yank these out by the roots, like the repentant King David when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Then we can bloom and be fruitful for God once more.
The Rev. Christine Maddux lives in Sapphire and is a Deacon at Christ Anglican Church in Cashiers. Send your comments and questions to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Crossroads Chronicle, May 29, 2019.