Thistles

While out in California to meet relatives before our wedding, one of my aunts commented that I had always been a bit harsh but Frank softened those rough edges. After my initial defensiveness, I’ve realized she may have been right.

I’m a critical person by nature. I have high standards for myself and for others and am always critiquing. Frank is a natural optimist, seeing people and situations through a rosy tint. It takes a huge effort for Frank to lose faith in someone’s potential. I still wouldn’t call myself the most generous person on earth, but he is rubbing off on me and my expectations of humanity are shifting.

Earlier this year, I read Luci Shaw’s The Crime of Living Cautiously and part of a chapter struck a chord and stuck with me. In “The Risk of Relationships,” Shaw ponders how we define flowers and weeds. She talks about the relativity of designating certain plants as weeds, noting wild day lilies that grow along highways and the resiliency of clover in fields (pp 95-6). She connects this image to our own relationships and habits of categorizing those around us as flowers (those like us) and weeds (those we don’t understand). And yet, these are all relative distinctions.

West Highland Thistle
West Highland Thistle

For our first anniversary, Frank and I hiked the West Highland Way, a 95-mile trail climbing through the Scottish Highlands. Keeping us along the Way were guideposts carved with the Scottish thistle. The Way, in general, is well-marked and we rarely needed the thistle to guide us. On our last day, nearing the end of a long 14 miles, we lost the path and couldn’t find a guidepost. I was so tired, my feet hurt, and knowing the end was so close made things seem worse. We searched for the thistle and finally, as I slumped against a stone wall, Frank found it around a corner. I perked up and we trudged into Fort William, proud of such an accomplishment.

When we arrived back in Colorado, after about two weeks’ absence, we found our yard overrun with our own thistles. The weeds had gone to seed and spread and I spent the next weeks pulling up the nettles, a never-ending rash on my forearms. The irony was not lost on me that summer, as I grumbled over our weeds. The very plant that, just weeks before had been my guidepost, was now my deep-rooted enemy, infiltrating my garden.

Because we don’t use chemicals on our yard, thistles come back every year. Last year, we resigned ourselves to them, trying to see the beauty but I think they may have choked out our poppies as a result… While blooming, thistles are beautiful – I love the tall stalks and light-purple flowers. But until they bloom, they just prick. Even our two-year-old knows to keep away from the “fistles.”

Blooming backyard thistle
Blooming backyard thistle

Initially, I connected Shaw’s analogy to others: I’ve learned so much through that prickly relationship; She became more beautiful once I viewed her as a flower rather than a weed. And, I’ve come to realize, I’m being the weedy one. How am I being prickly toward others? How can I shift and show more blossoms and fewer nettles?

When I give myself grace, when I allow myself to shift from weed to flower, I begin to give grace to others. I have such trouble shifting mentality, but when I am gracious with my own needs, my own values, my own insecurities, I am far more gracious with the seeming imperfections of others. I have started asking, How can I be a guide rather than a nettle? How can I see the wild beauty in others rather than pulling them out and forcing my own, neatly planted ideals?

Shaw describes God as an artist-gardener, loving the wild mix of plants and flowers, contained and rambling that cover His garden. She says,

“So I have to believe that uninterrupted nature, weeds and all, is divine art” (pg 98).

Sometimes we need the nettling, unpleasant side of the weed. Sometimes I need that push-back to my own ideologies in order to shift perspective and grow. In trying to embrace the weed-as-flower, I can just as easily not recognize its inherent weediness. How can embracing all aspects of the wild beauty of the weed empower me to embrace all aspects of a difficult relationship or habit?

Shaw concludes,

“And then perhaps a relationship can begin to form and flourish between a flower and a weed. They can perhaps beautify the landscape together” (p 100).

Maybe, instead of sweating and giving myself rashes, I need to sit back in the hammock, surrounded by nettles and poppies, intentional and unintentional plantings, and enjoy being part of this wild beauty.

Do you struggle with weediness? How can you see beauty in weeds this week?

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3 thoughts on “Thistles

  1. I do not have a garden, alas, but I can see the beauty in the wild grasses and weeds that grow in the wild. In trying to tame a garden to fit in with our preconceived notions of beauty, we sometimes forget to see the beauty in the weeds that grow.

    1. So true – we have another gorgeous flowery vine, but it chokes our plants… I did just learn that thistles are medicinal, so will have to look into that!

  2. Always learning o find balance between my preconceived views of beauty and the naturally created beauty, both in nature and in others.

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