October 21, 2020

iMonk Classic: A Note to Weed-Eaters

Our school has a student work program, and one of the most popular jobs is working on the yard crew. Our boys love to work with the tractors, mowers and weed-eaters.

Especially weed-eaters. It’s a certain sign of spring when I hear the yard crew outside the window of my house, and I can hear the sound of 4 or 5 weed-eater motors revving up like NASCAR racers waiting the start of the race.

There’s nothing quite as empowering to a middle school boy as to be given a weed-eater of his very own. Armed with the machine, safety glasses and an orientation, they come marching across the campus taking on weeds and untrimmed grass like Sherman’s march to the sea.

If there was ever any tentativeness in these weed-eating workers, it all vanishes when they get their first taste of the power of the weed-eater. With a squeeze of the trigger, the power to eliminate weeds replaces the fear of what might happen in using such a dangerous device. Lazy middle school boys are transformed into the scourge of weeds and untidy lawns everywhere.

There is, unfortunately, a not so charming side effect of this transformation. In the ensuing attack on weeds and sidewalk scruffiness of all kinds, most of the other flora and fauna of the campus is put at some risk from overenthusiastic weed warriors.

So in addition to a tidy campus and well attended faculty and staff lawns, there are frequent attacks on flower beds, gardens and much loved decorative hedges and bushes. Small fences are no obstacle to a boy convinced that some stray sprig of wayward grass is attempting to survive the Day of the Weed-eater.

Flowers and other decorative plants are at real risk when the power of a gang of boys go out into the neighborhood to do good. They are armed and dangerous. The neighborhood will be improved.

With time and guidance, these eager young naturalists will learn to wield the power of the weed-eater with more patient and judgement. They will become dependable servants of the cause of an attractive campus. But there will be those first few forays into battle, and the results are predictably predictable.

So as I get older, I see many of my zealous brothers and sisters armed with the Bible, heading out into the church to do what they believe is a good work of killing weeds.

The results are predictably predictable.

Be less enthralled with your ability to trim the grass brothers, friends. Be less certain that you are qualified to tell the difference between a weed and a flower that has yet to bloom. Learn to use your power equipment carefully. You can do a lot of damage. All does not depend on you cutting down every unknown and out of place plant. You are not saving us from the arrival of the jungle. You are making things look better. It is an important job, but not to be taken overly seriously.

You can hurt someone with that weed-eater. it can tear up a tree or even a nice porch. It can mess you up. It has great potential for good, but it can cut down a garden in a matter of seconds. Learn to tell the difference. Be less fascinated by all that power and more committed to having the eye and heart of a cultivator.

There is a battle with weeds to be fought. Cut them down as needed. But be cautious, not self-righteous. You cannot make every edge straight. Most weeds will grow back. A weed-eater isn’t the right tool for every job.

It was the Pharisees that Jesus criticized for their weed-eater mentality. They were obsessed with separation. They were tithing their spices. They were experts in staying on the case until the weeds were revealed.

Jesus wants us to be gardeners, but we do have to deal with weeds. Did any gardener ever say “let the weeds grow” except for Jesus?

Some of us have set our sights (sites) on being full-time weed eaters and we’re having a very good time. The body of Christ needs a few. But only a few. And be careful, please. Very careful.

There are other ways to pull weeds of course. Not nearly as much fun, but I have to wonder what Jesus would think of today’s “Sons of Thunder” and their weed-eating zeal.

Whoever is not against us is for us. Who said that? Someone trying to keep the weed-eating crew useful, and not a dangerous nuisance.


  1. Once, after scuffing a good bit of paint off of my neighbor’s picket fence with my weed-eater and still not getting all the tall grass and weeds cut, I literally got on my knees with a pair of heavy duty scissors and hand trimmed the grass. It was a slow process, but I’m struck after reading Michael’s words how much better the process is when we actually get close, hold the weeds in our hands and carefully avoid the collateral damage to something that wasn’t ours to damage in the first place.

  2. From Wendell Berry comparing weed wackers (power sycthes) to real scythes:

    “The power scythe-and it is far from being an isolated or unusual example-is not labor- saver or a short cut. It is a labor-maker (you have to work to pay for it as well as to use it) and a “longcut”. Apologists for such expensive technological solutions love to say that “you can’t turn back the clock.” But when it makes perfect sense to do so, as the case of a good old-fashioned scythe, of course you can!”

    The task of weed-eating needs to be done, but should be done carefully and skillfully, with a view to form, and without sloppiness. It’s a good word for all of us.

    • “It is futile to talk of reform without reference to form.” — G.K. Chesterton

    • Years ago Woodenboat magazine had a great little article on the cost of modern gadgets to the writer. The time and effort to purchase, and then the time to learn how to use it best, and then add the ‘needed’ accessories. Many of the gadgets become the purpose, now that I have it I must use it.

  3. Great article! Keep up the good work!

  4. “Be less certain that you are qualified to tell the difference between a weed and a flower that has yet to bloom.”

    Amen to that.

    • Joseph (the original) says

      my old horticulture professor had a quaint saying regarding weeds:

      “A weed is simply a POOP: a plant out of place…”