When we moved into our house, my husband and I found an old raised garden bed falling apart in our backyard. We waited for the spring to see what would come of it and were not surprised to find a 5×7-foot garden of the most unpleasant weeds you could imagine. Nothing will ever come of this, I thought to myself, and I wondered how we could get rid of it.
Fast forward to the next year when we decided to try and do something with it. I have always had a dream of planting seeds and watching them grow into something beautiful, but I have never tried to do so. It seemed like too much work, and I didn’t know how to start. I had also killed one too many plants — both my own and the ones I took care of while house sitting — to have the confidence to try again.
I see myself doing this so often with my desires. The fear of failure and disappointment, not feeling like I’m “enough,” and my own lack of diligence often hold me back from even dreaming and desiring in the first place. I was recently listening to a podcast from Dr. Greg Bottaro of the Catholic Psych Institute about dreaming. As he described a major dream he had and the work he put into it to make it happen, all I could think of were the millions of excuses why I could never do something like what he was talking about.
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It also doesn’t help that I — and I’m sure many women like me — feel pressure to turn our desires into a “side hustle,” to make them productive rather than just do them for the joy of having done them. We feel we have to be professionals in order to pursue the simplest of hobbies, and our lack of comprehensive knowledge keeps us from even trying in the first place. We also feel like we have to make it “worth it,” that it has to bring us some monetary benefit rather than just be a fun thing we do.
What’s even more sad is that those desires we find in the depths of our hearts have been placed there by God himself. When we are truly seeking to do his will through prayer, the sacraments and following his revealed law, we can trust that the big and little desires and dreams that are whispered into our hearts are from him. God uniquely writes our stories so that we can reveal to the world his goodness in a particular and personal way. When we reject our desires, it’s not just our own heart but God’s very heart that fails to be shown to the world.
We often say to ourselves, “Maybe I’ll have time for this when I have my *stuff* together. Maybe this summer. Maybe when I’m married. Maybe once I’m more qualified or have more experience. Maybe when the baby’s older. Maybe when the kitchen’s clean. Maybe once I fix these parts of myself that I find to be broken. Maybe then I’ll be ready to follow God’s desires for me.”
But when we use these excuses, what we’re forgetting is that our holiness and our path to God is a path of ongoing and continual sanctification. We will never be perfectly ready, perfectly fixed, perfectly perfect until we are in heaven. And if we wait for that time to do what God is asking, then we’ve missed our chance completely.
I made up excuses to try and forget about the garden: I don’t know what I’m doing; we have a new baby; I don’t like bugs; it’s hot outside. But my persistent husband, a professional dreamer, insisted we at least try. So, my father-in-law dug up all the weeds, I went to Home Depot and bought bags of whatever soil the wise older worker told me to get, and I did some research on the easiest cutting flowers to grow in your garden. We (mostly my husband) dug through the soil and did what we could to redeem this seemingly hopeless garden bed.
As the spring and summer continued on, the old weeds started coming back, the flowers and herbs we planted were either eaten up or withered, and it seemed those seeds in the dark, dry soil had no chance of survival. After weeks of watering and weeding every day, I gave up. Clearly nothing was going to come from this garden, and I didn’t feel like doing more work to turn up with nothing.
But then something magical happened. The tall plants I thought were similar to the weeds that had grown before ended up being some of the most beautiful zinnias and dahlias I had ever seen. I probably could have realized this sooner if I had stayed faithful, done a little more research on the plants themselves and paid closer attention. But even in my unfaithfulness to the garden, something beautiful still came about.
And isn’t it the same with God? He never gives up on us, even if we experience seasons where we give up on him. He makes something beautiful out of our efforts, even if we don’t always know what we’re doing. He, in great mercy, takes care of the details even when we fail to do so ourselves. He is always faithful, he is always good, even in our own unfaithfulness.
God isn’t waiting for you to be perfect before you pursue his plans for you. He doesn’t need your “readiness” but simply your trust, your yes. The Church asks big things of her children, and sometimes it can seem as though we have to control the specific details of how those things come about. But God, in his faithfulness, knows that your own path of self perfection is not a necessary requirement for his will to be done. His own perfection, his grace and his power are enough to make mountains move.
Of course, he wants us to stick with him even if it seems like our gardens are only producing weeds. He doesn’t want us to neglect the soil, forget to water the plants and abandon our gardens all together. But even when we do, he is the one who causes the growth (1 Cor 3:7). He is always bringing about his good plan and giving us opportunity after opportunity to say yes to it.
Maybe your dreams are more complicated than a garden in your backyard. Maybe there really are a million legitimate excuses not to say yes. If this is where you find yourself, I’d challenge you to do two things. First, ask God, “What do you have to say about this?” Ask him over and over again, and just wait to see what he has to show you. I think it will surprise you. Then, take a small step. You don’t have to have it all together just to begin. You don’t have to know exactly where it’s going to go to start following your dream or his will for your life. You didn’t fail if the dream or desire ends up taking a different shape than you initially thought it would. Taking small steps with God allows you to leave room for him to guide and direct what you are doing, where you are going, and how it will look along the way.
We have been cutting flowers from that resurrected garden and making small bouquets in our house all summer. The beauty that flowers bring to a home, especially ones you helped to grow, are incomparable to the most expensive bouquets.
Examine your own heart. What dream or desire have you put off, waiting for the “right time” to pursue? You will be amazed at the beauty that your dreams bring to your home, your family, your community and the world. St. Teresa of Calcutta so famously said, “What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.” So let go of the fears. Stop trying to perfect yourself before you say yes to God. Because your yes and his work are the only path to perfection, to sanctification.
A retired FOCUS missionary and theology teacher, Claire resides in Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband, Andrew, and their son, Joseph. She enjoys spending time on her screened-in back porch and in conversation with friends over a good beer.