We all have trials, and most of the time I think we do a pretty good job of dealing with them. But for the last few months, I have to admit I’ve let mine get the best of me. While I’m usually a pretty optimistic person, I allowed a series of ill-timed setbacks in my work to strip away that optimism and replace it with a sense of hopelessness and doubt toward God that is uncommon to my psyche. After weeks of praying and asking for some form of guidance, I had an experience that helped change my perspective.
What surprised me was that the experience had nothing to do with my work. Instead, the Lord took the opportunity to teach me while I was free from distractions, working in my yard.
The process started earlier in the spring when I decided it was time to clean up our yard. Months of neglect during the winter had resulted in a lawn and flowerbeds full of weeds, some with stalks as thick as my thumb! I pulled the largest ones, then mowed, spread mulch, and laid Weed & Feed to kill off the rest of the weeds and give our lawn a boost. Several weeks went by and most of the yard was looking good. That is, except for a 20-square-foot brown patch in the middle of our backyard.
At first, the Weed & Feed had killed the weeds in this area and encouraged some grass to grow, but after a while it all turned brown. I went out to inspect and discovered the problem—the area was covered in such thick, dead grass, left over from the winter months, that it choked anything that tried to sprout though. To make things worse, the area is slightly raised compared to the rest of the backyard, so water would run off into other parts of the lawn when it rained or when we watered, allowing the area to be scorched by the hot Texas sun (even in early spring we were in the 90s!). The only thing to do was to tear up the area and reseed.
I grabbed our thatch rake and started to work. It was a physically demanding job, but somehow it was also oddly therapeutic. As I ripped away layer after layer of dead grass and got down to the dirt, I was surprised to see a few tender blades of green grass poking out of the ground. The more I worked the more green appeared. I continued to fill an entire 40-gallon trash bag with the dead grass then took a few steps back to admire my work. (Being a typical man, I also called my wife out to admire my work with me). With some effort, what once seemed like an impenetrable blanket of dead grass had transformed into a promising plot of rich earth with hundreds of hopeful, living blades poking through.
Now, you probably see where I’m going with this, but I’m going to go there anyway.
Just like my lawn, we all have to endure the bitter cold of life at times. Unfortunately, as I had done, sometimes we allow that cold to smother our hope in a particular aspect of our lives or lead us to doubt God’s goodness. Like that plot of ground, we may also lift ourselves up in pride, relying too much on our own efforts and not enough on God. When we do this, it is easy to become “scorched” by the world or hardened by the illusions of the Adversary, preventing the living water (see John 4:10-14) from entering our hearts and helping us to flourish. We may also try to address things our own way, expecting God to bend His will to ours rather than the other way around. But approaching our problems this way is ultimately ineffective; much like using the Weed & Feed seemed to help at first but failed in the end.
When we put in the work to consciously rip away the layers of doubt and frustration, through sincere prayer, putting our faith in Christ instead of in ourselves (Moroni 7:41), and seeking God’s will instead of our own, He can soften our hearts and renew our hope.
I think we'll often find that hope was lying under the surface the whole time.
Joseph Harrison is the proud father of an adorable little girl (with two more on the way!) and the husband of an incredible and accomplished wife. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration and worked for several years in management consulting before coming to Texas A&M, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in strategic management. His passions include his family, the scriptures, serving others, teaching, and college football. His favorite teams include Clemson and Texas A&M — Go Tigers & Gig 'em Ags!