Deadheading Your Heart...So Beauty Abounds
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
The simple act of plucking shriveled blossoms off my flowers is always nostalgic for me. Weird, right?
See, my mom used do to all my deadheading for me. In fact, my mom used to do all my gardening for me, period. Every spring she would bring me a couple of big planters filled with petunias (because they’re hardy and she knew I would neglect them all summer). Then every time she came to Fargo to see her grandchildren (which was often), she would water and deadhead my flowers. She never said a word about it. She just knew that with 3 little kiddos at my feet I would never take the time to plant or care for flowers myself. I think she might have deadheaded subconsciously…her green fingers just instinctively went straight to any flowers within reach.
After she died it was up to me to keep my own patio beautiful. And, I must say, I’ve learned to really love it. My flowers are gorgeous, and as I water and deadhead, I feel like she and I are chatting away. I can hear her giggling as I go. I don’t know if flowers wilt in heaven, but if they do I’m confident that my mom has all the deadheads taken care of in no time. She might be head of the deadheading committee.
Anyway…suffice it to say deadheading is unusually and weirdly personal to me.
But lately God has been speaking to me in new ways while I’m deadheading. He’s been using this little mundane task to talk to me about my life and heart, my mind and soul. “Deadhead your heart, Rebecca.” “Your mind is too crowded, Rebecca.” “Make some space in your soul, Rebecca. Let go of what is past.”
Within the Church we talk about "pulling weeds" in reference to ridding our lives of sin habits, guilt and condemnation, destructive thought patterns, etc. But deadheading is different because flower blossoms that are now wilting were just a short-time ago beautiful and full of life. This is why deadheading flowers is always a little sad. Pulling weeds is never sad. Mosquito-ridden and annoying, yes, but not sad. Yet it is with reluctance that I pluck blossoms that once held such beauty and vibrancy. Geraniums are the hardest ones for me to pluck. Perhaps because I love them so much; perhaps because the blossoms are so big; perhaps because you have to snap a geranium stem all the way down at its base. Really? The whole shoot? Can’t I just pick a few brown petals here and there? But of course I know it's necessary so that the up and coming shoot right next to her can have her time to shine.
Likewise, when we deadhead our hearts, we aren’t parting ways with things that are negative. Rather, we are parting ways with things that were quite wonderful; things in our lives that once brought beauty and purpose, but whose days are past. Perhaps a friendship that was life-giving for a precious season has now grown distant and awkward. A career that you once loved may now drain you far more than it fills you. Maybe a dream that fed your soul for years is now causing your heart to stray from where the Lord is leading you. It could be that a daily practice or priority just doesn’t fit anymore as you play jenga with your schedule. Perhaps an expectation you've held for yourself or others used to work well but now brings constant disappointment. Whatever it is, it’s painful and usually very personal. These things are so dear to us that the horticulture term of “deadheading” might feel too crude for the process. “Surrendering” may sit better with your soul.
If you’re like me, you often wait until a flower blossom is shriveled and maybe even crunchy rather than plucking it when it begins wilting. It’s just too hard to snap it off...maybe tomorrow it'll miraculously un-shrivel! So it is with letting go of the past things that fill our hearts. Is it just wilty because it’s thirsty? Or is it a beauty that has run its course? Unlike crunchy flower petals, the things we've held dearly (friendships, careers, priorities) don’t usually make it quite so obvious that they are no longer meant to be. Is this really coming to a close or is it simply in a seasonal drought? Should I surrender it or give it tender loving care?
I’m in my backyard as I write this, and right in front of me there’s a young autumn blaze maple that might be dead. No buds opened this spring. We are bummed; we won't get to enjoy its lovely September glory this fall. But it might just be having a dormant year, so we wait. In another corner of my backyard are some shriveled, newly transplanted peony plants. Truth be told, they look dead. But I’m confident they are just in dormancy after being transplanted, and next spring they should take full bloom. So, again, I wait. I water, and I wait. Things in life that were once beautiful are often like my tree and peonies. It takes time to know if something is temporarily dormant or actually done.
The best thing I’ve found to do is simply ask God. (Usually many times.) “Lord, is this done?” “Lord, this seems far too draining. Should I take a rest for awhile, buck up and persevere, or surrender this as something that no longer fits my life?” One of my favorite teachers, John Eldredge, suggests “trying on” different answers as we wait to hear from God. For a day or week, sit with a yes answer. Try it on and see how it feels in your soul. The next day or week, try on a no answer and see how that feels to your soul. Keep asking for clarity. It’ll come in time if we don’t push it. This has been a tremendously helpful tool for me for the last decade or so. It takes waiting, though. Unlike my begonias, I should not deadhead my life quickly. We cannot do this in a hurry (unless God says “Do it now,” which He sometimes does and then we should).
This summer as God's been speaking to me in my flowerbeds, He's been prompting me to check-in with Him about the status of many things that take up residence in my heart: dreams, goals, friendships, priorities, careers. Very frequently I ask God if my usefulness as a Bible teacher and writer is a beautiful dream that is past or if it’s on slow-motion/pause mode. As of yet, He’s been telling me to just keep on watering. “Don’t pluck that, Rebecca. Just keep watering. Fertilize. Wait.”
Earlier this spring (during long days of quarantine) I decided to train for a half marathon. It’s been 7 years since I’ve done one, and I swore I’d never do it again…but, you know…covid. However, after a couple months of training I hurt my knees. No more running. I’ve self-identified as a runner since I was 14….not a great and certainly not a fast runner, but a joyful runner nonetheless, and now I’m done. It’s time to pluck. Maybe one day I'll be able to run again, but other fitness opportunities abound and it's wisest to let it go. But like plucking a geranium shoot, it causes me to grieve a little.
You might be and wondering what past things might need plucking in your life. Ask God. Asking God to help you clear space in your heart, soul and mind is a wonderful cleansing process. Psalm 139:23-24 is a helpful prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me, and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Things that are over that we haven’t let go of usually cause anxiety and stress, especially when we haven’t identified them. Ask God to show you.
One last thought. I’ve never watched Marie Kondo, but I’ve read that one of her great pieces of decluttering advice is to acknowledge how an item that you no longer use has served you well and thank it for its service. I’m pretty sure I made fun of that idea when I first heard it, but since then I’ve humbly realized she's totally right. Packing up boxes of old clothing and books really is easier when I name and appreciate what it once gave our family.
This practice is even more important as various stakeholders in our hearts run their courses. Naming what was once lovely helps us to let go with gratitude rather than bitterness. Thank God for the beautiful friendship that has drifted but was a precious gift for a time. Say it out loud, at least to God if to no one else. Name the ways that career has blessed and filled you, especially now as it might no longer bring fulfillment. Remember how it did and say it out loud. Thank God for giving you that passion and the dream that fueled your soul for years, even if now your dreams have shifted; or if your dream hasn't shifted but you're surrendering that that dream wasn't met to be. Think of the ways that past priority shaped your days and ask God’s guidance in structuring your days going forward without that same priority. It’s like saying to a once-gorgeous but now-wilted iris“Thank you for being so beautiful! I have loved seeing you smile me! Now it’s time to let another one shine!”
When we remove what is past, what is present gets to bloom forth and what is future gets to start budding. Surrendering past things doesn't mean forgetting. We want to always cherish the gifts God has given us along the way. But letting go of past things does mean that beauty gets to flourish and life gets to win.
Remember, God’s mercies are new every morning. So I'll be in my flowerbeds, plucking away so that beauty abounds.