Flowers & Weeds: Are We In Control?

When I was in seminary, I came across a quote from a modern-day saint who had observed that “Those who cannot control themselves are eager to control others.”

At that time, I had been struggling with thoughts of others who were not behaving in a Christian manner, and it was giving me quite a bit of anxiety. After reading those words about control, though, it caused me to reflect on whether I was able to control myself. I realized that I had still had a very long way to go before the plank in my own eye was gone. (Matt. 7:5.) But rather than self-pity, this realization brought grace and mercy for others. Not only that, I found that my judgmental attitude and anxiety were gone.

Throughout these past several months of 2020 and dealing with COVID, not to mention being flooded by the noise of the political megaphone as we approach the presidential election, the temptation to be anxious and judge others is very strong. Why does this happen? Could it have something to do with a desire to control?

Unfortunately, inciting anxiety and jumping to conclusions is a powerful publicity tool. These days, power and money are often exchanged in the form of reactions, taps, comments and shares. The more of any of these a company can generate, the more alleged control they can wield and ad revenue they will receive.

In addition to being the priest at Annunciation Orthodox Church, I also run a web design and development agency. When designing new websites for clients we often have to explain how search engine algorithms work (and why it’s so hard to get on the first page of Google.) Once I came across an article on a tech site about a prescription eyeglasses company who found a way to trick Google: They would intentionally have the worst customer service possible so that nearly everyone who purchased glasses from them took time out of their day to write a bad review online. Because they had so many reviews (it didn’t matter that they were bad), Google ranked their website first when people searched for eyeglasses. And because this company’s site was the first to show up, people would purchase without thinking to read the (scathing) reviews. Negative reactions = control and money.

Another modern-day saint once offered a beautiful analogy about why this happens. He said:

“God has placed a power in man’s soul. But it is up to him how he channels it – for good or for evil. If we imagine the good as a garden full of flowers, trees, and plants; and the evil as weeds and thorns; and the power as water, then what can happen is as follows: when the water is directed towards the flower garden, then all the plants grow, blossom and bear fruit; and at the same time, the weeds and thorns, because they are not being watered, wither and die. And the opposite, of course, can also happen. It is not necessary, therefore, to concern yourselves with the weeds. Don’t occupy yourself with rooting out evil. Christ does not wish us to occupy ourselves with (the vices), but with the opposite. Channel the water, that is, all the strength of your soul, to the flowers and you will enjoy their beauty, their fragrance and their freshness.” From Wounded by Love, The Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios.

Are we in control of ourselves? Or are we desiring to control others? Are we growing thorns and blaming others for not growing flowers? Though it’s difficult, we don’t have to be controlled by anxiety, nor give into the temptation to judge others. We can focus on nourishing godly thoughts and actions and watch the weeds of anxiety and judgement shrivel up and die.