What Gardening Taught Me About Anxiety

Some people like reading. Some people like watching The Office. Some people like roasting marshmallows over a campfire. I like all of those things, plus I like pulling weeds. There’s something about it that I find therapeutic and relaxing. All I have to do in the moment is pinch a weed, raise my hand, and then toss the weed into an ever-growing weed pile. It’s easy, and I like doing things that are easy. Sometimes, I’ll watch the Office while I’m pulling weeds, which is what I did Saturday morning. To most people, this experience probably seems strange or unusual, but to me? It seems like heaven. It is heaven. Weeds and Netflix. (And chocolate milk).

Okay, I’m obviously exaggerating. But truthfully, not much. I really do enjoy pulling weeds, especially on a warm, breezy Saturday morning when the sunlight just peeks through the rustling leaves, causing them to almost sparkle. And the bees are buzzing, and the birds are singing, and the weeds are dying. . . Have I convinced you yet? No? Okay, fine.

Yesterday, while I was pulling weeds, the most obvious metaphor essentially fell from the sky. In life, there are flowers, and then there are weeds. Flowers smell nice. They’re freshly baked cookies, and stargazing, and ordering the right thing off the menu at a restaurant. They’re driving up a canyon with the windows down, or feeling good about a decision you’ve made. Weeds are the problems. They’re stressors. They’re choices and to-do lists and picking an eternal companion and exercising. Allow me to explain.

I have always experienced anxiety from time to time, but after a recent relationship, I found myself experiencing it far more often than usual. Little things and little choices caused me to feel disproportionate amounts of stress. “What types of things cause her anxiety?” An excellent question! Many things.

For one, running. Do I have time to run today? Also, if I do have time to run, do I even want to run? I should probably run, because running is good for me and will probably lengthen my life and improve my health. But you know what sounds better than running? A jelly donut. Sleeping in. Watching the Office. Finding a place to live, choosing furniture, picking out a shirt to wear on a date? These are all weeds that have popped up in the garden of my life. And I’ve come to realize, they’re going to continue to grow. Weeds exist for all of us, regardless of how righteous we are or how kind or how hard-working. Weeds are simply a part of life, and we can either choose to pull them, or leave them to grow. And this is the great metaphor of my Saturday morning.

So, it’s time for a quick game I like to call, Pull it, or Plant it? The object of the game is simple: organize your choices and activities into a flower or weed category. Look, watch: Do you feel stressed about fitting in a run today? Pull it. You don’t have to run. Ah, that feels better, doesn’t it? Because you don’t have to do it! Will eating that jelly donut bring you happiness? What about saying “no” to something so you can sleep in, or go to bed early? Flowers. And oh how extra sleep and a satisfying dessert are the greatest flowers of them all!

It’s true that life is a balancing act of managing our wants and needs (or, weeds and seeds–good one, huh?). Naturally, watching Netflix for 7 hours of the day might not be an appropriate decision if it means postponing a cocktail of obligations and responsibilities that will later cause anxiety. If you eat three jelly donuts every day, you’re probably not going to be happy with they way you feel or look. But there’s something to be said for making simple decisions that promote happiness. We don’t need to stress so much over what we eat or wear, and when we do, we turn potentially joyous experiences into pesky, noxious weeds. Pull it or Plant it works well for temporary annuals and tomato plants, (running and eating jelly donuts), but I think it’s applicable in planting more permanent trees and perennials too. Are you currently trying to decide whether or not to marry a particular man? Does he make you happy? Does your relationship with him bring you anxiety, or peace of mind? It’s a complicated decision, but I believe Pull it or Plant it makes it a little less so. Often, God asks us to just plant our gardens with Him in mind, knowing He’ll be there to help us till and weed them as time goes on.

So, this week, play a little Pull it or Plant it. Before you make even a single decision, stop and think, “Will this choice bring me happiness?” If the answer is no, pause to consider an alternative that will. If the answer is yes, make the decision, move forward, and forget about it. In life, there are enough monumental decisions to make, enormous weeds to pull. Stop spending so much of your time and energy fretting over decisions that will very likely not matter in one day, let alone one year, let alone ten years, let alone eternity. There are canyons to explore, lakes to swim in, hamburgers to be eaten, friends to laugh with, and beautiful gardens to rear!  Do what you want! Because it’s okay to take care of yourself. Because your happiness really is worth it. Because there simply isn’t time for anything else.

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I believe in being brave. I believe in Middle Earth. I believe in hammocks, chocolate milk, and in living and loving authentically, no matter how much it may hurt. I believe in standing in the light. I believe in learning, in reading, and in crying---that mountains heal your spirit when it's been diminished, that friends heal your heart when it's been broken, and that Jesus Christ heals everything else. I believe that people will both break you down and build you up, that everyone is doing the best they can, and that loving each other is the closest we'll come to understanding God while on this earth.

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  • Mary Lehnardt
    May 16, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    I learn so much in the garden! We should all do a little more weeding and planting.