On the Side: July 2023
Tending the Garden of our Hearts
by Julie Dees
Several years ago, there was a house down the street from us that had the most amazing landscaping! Ok, I’ll admit it, I experienced a little “flower envy” every time I walked by with the dogs. I may have even sneaked a pic or two to save for when spring came around again so I could plant similar flowers.
But then, the owner moved out of state and put her house up for sale. The months dragged by, and although many people came to look at the house, I guess it just wasn’t the best fit for any of them. So, it sat. Vacant. Uncared for. That beautiful yard that I so envied began to grow weeds. The gorgeous perennials and some trees and bushes began to die. It was sad to watch. Unfortunately, I no longer envied that yard.
I started thinking about how much our spiritual lives are like that yard. It takes work to feed and water our hearts with the Word of God. We must uproot anything that threatens to crowd out what is good and holy— anything that does not represent God’s best. We cannot neglect this important part of our lives and expect to see beauty and life. No, without taking the time to actively cultivate the ground of our hearts, we will begin to look like my neighbor’s yard—dead and overgrown.
As I continued to think about this analogy, I thought about how hard that work really is. There’s no magic formula or quick fix when it comes to ridding our hearts of “weedy plants.” It’s certainly not a “one and done” type of task. It is a daily job. When we are struggling because we feel like a single parent, when we share with our spouse the heavy burden of exams, match day and residency, when we battle fear and worry over what the future holds for us, getting rid of those things is not so easy.
But I find myself wanting it to be easy. I want to quote Scripture and it be like picking up weed killer. A few pumps of the spray bottle and all weeds are miraculously taken care of; burdens lifted and worries gone. While there are times it may seem to work that way, more often than not, those pesky weeds aren’t actually dead…even though I am diligent in repeat applications.
How do those weeds survive, and sometimes seem to thrive, when I am doing “all the right things?” What do I do when I pray for change, but I’m not seeing any fruit? Why isn’t that burden/worry/fear completely lifted? What do I do when trying harder and spraying more “weed killer” doesn’t seem to be working? Why don’t I always experience relief when I cry out to God?
These are the type of questions we encounter in the Psalms. God gave us the Psalms to help us articulate our emotions and tell Him our deepest needs. The Psalms give us permission to express anger, fear, worry and confusion, especially when we do not see an immediate resolution. When we are overwhelmed by what we cannot control or change, the Psalms show us how to talk to God about it and ultimately how to find hope in the middle of our struggles. Paul David Tripp reminds us, “We forget that God’s primary goal is not changing our situations or relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations and relationships so that we will be holy.”
Unfortunately, the psalmists weren’t able to escape the miseries of this world, and neither will we. So, God left us their expressions of joy and sorrow, praise and suffering, doubt and fear, repentance over sin, and a yearning for justice, so we can give voice to these same issues. Even the difficult verses are there to instruct us by showing us what it means to communicate our raw, sometimes ugly, emotions to the Lord. The Psalms help shape our response to God, whether in the joys or the trials of life. Remember, Jesus quoted Psalms on the cross.
Here are some points I have found helpful when I am wrestling with something:
- It’s okay to struggle. The Psalms weren’t written from places of ease and comfort. Sometimes there was an enemy, and sometimes there was lament over sin. Regardless of the reason, the Psalms give voice to the personal struggles anyone living in a fallen sinful world will experience.
- It’s okay to feel. Sometimes we may struggle with feeling like having negative emotions is wrong and we need to just push past them or deny them. Rather than giving the impression that our emotions are wrong, the Psalms give us permission to hold our feelings before the Lord.
- It’s okay to scream. The Psalms not only give us permission to feel, but they also allow us to voice our emotions. If God is big enough to hear Jesus cry out with raw emotion, then He is big enough to hear us too.
- Praying the Psalms is healing. When we give voice to our deep emotions, not hiding from them or pretending they do not exist, we invite Jesus into the deep inner places of our lives.
The Psalms have been a beautiful reminder for me that I am not alone in my feelings, and I can cry out to God in the middle of my pain. When there doesn’t seem to be a resolution to my problems, they remind me to humbly submit to God’s complete control over my life, trusting He has a plan far better than I can imagine. As Paul David Tripp explains, “God’s design in our pain enables us to look back and say: He loves me enough to take me where I would have never wanted to go in order to produce in me what I never could have achieved on my own.”
So, as I walk through the garden of my heart, watering the flowers and identifying the weeds, I feel comfort in repeating the psalmist’s words from Psalm 73, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:21-26, NIV).
Julie Dees is mom to two and wife of a neurologist in Oklahoma. She has become well acquainted with and found great comfort in the Psalms after the death of her 18-year-old son six years ago. She is thankful for the sustaining hand of the Lord as He continually walks with her family through the process of grief.