Gardens and Friendships and Really Long Metaphors

by - October 15, 2013

I used to really have fun with analogies and expounding on a metaphor. Due to my high level of enjoyment of nature, and using nature for examples, and due to the fact that nature can be icky, for awhile some friends called me "slightly gross analogy girl." I was okay with it. So I'm going to metaphorize here in this little web space that rarely gets tended to anymore.

Lately I've been thinking on friendship. It seems that even when a woman is well out of high school, friendships can still feel rather, well, "high school". Perhaps not the friendships themselves lack maturity, but the concern over them and drama around them do. At the root of it oftentimes is our own insecurity, our desire to be genuinely liked and our fear of being left out. Over the past year as I've taken a step back in a few areas of life, I've found that I'm okay letting the chords and strings that hold me to others stretch a bit longer than I'd normally be comfortable with. I've learned to trust that when a friend says she loves me, she really does love me and I don't have to have a current stream of texts of my phone to substantiate it.

So... on with the metaphor. Maintaining and growing friendships is much like tending to a garden. (Wait, is that a simile? I used "like"...)

Maybe most importantly, we each have to understand the amount of space we can physically maintain. In previous summers, I started a garden in raised beds or a prepared plot and then dug up more and more spots in the yard to stick in plants only to discover that I lacked the capacity to grow them all. I was so eager for variety, to taste a little bit of everything, and I wanted to grow things sometimes simply for the reason that someone else was growing it in their garden. It turns out I hardly got to taste anything at all. The weeds overtook the corn, the okra was piddly, and the lettuce was shaded out by the ten varieties of tomatoes I'd planted. I had no boundaries, and the lack of boundaries left me overwhelmed. I now have a fence around my garden, and when I run out of room, I stop planting. Likewise, we have to know how many and what kind of relationships we can devote our attention to. We can't be friends with everyone. And if we choose to plant something new, we have to make sure our soil is fertile and healthy. There are seasons when we have to let our soil rest as well.

Each relationship is different, of course, just like the plants in the garden. Each plant has its own nutrient, water and sunlight demands. It might still grow while deprived of any one of these, but it won't be fruitful. Also, when given too much attention, many plants suffer. How many times have I made my presence too well known, tried to will plants into production, known they were diseased and yet stubbornly left them to rot to the stem, wasting precious garden soil and time? How many tomato plants have I over-watered and suffocated? There are tomato plants I've also under-watered, the fruit has still grown but then cracked open and molded after a good rain.

Sometimes, we have to admit that growing three massive red hibiscus bushes isn't our style, and we don't even like herbal tea to begin with. We admit that although we want to be salad growers, the lettuce always comes up bitter and bolts too quickly. In friends, we see that though we long to be invited to ladies' nights where we get to put our best faces on and maybe even pair the tall boots with the denim dress, we really would rather split a bottle of wine on the couch in our pajamas with a shoddy rom-com playing in the background that was the ruse to get our friend to come over. And when that's the fruit we grow and tend to, we can't be disappointed that we didn't end up at the table of fourteen at Maggiano's.

Just like plants, we have to know our friends individually and know when we are needed and when time needs to pass between watering. We can't place our desire to tinker above their God-given need to rest. We need the friends with deep roots and hardy stems that come back year after year, can weather the frost and the heat and even our over-eager watering and still bring beautiful fragrance to our lives. There are plants (and friendships) that it would seem I've tried to kill by neglect, and yet they survive. We also need the friends that just come into our lives for a short time, for that quick burst of beauty while sharing with us for a season. Some plants grow just to mend weary soil. Sometimes the only way to save a plant from its untimely death is a painful heart-to-heart with a solid pair of pruning shears.

I'm sure by now I've beat it into the ground (metaphor extended), but one final note is that our neighbor's gardens will always look more abundant and lovely from our side of the fence. Know that any good garden takes a lifetime to grow. We will fail over and over, and we will mourn the loss of those we cherished. But as the seasons come and go, and our thumbs begin to green, we find that there is nothing more rewarding than the tending to and actually getting to taste what's there.

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