Every year about this time, I rejoice in the welcome signs of spring—warm sunshine, green grass, and fresh soil. As I spend time in the dirt, I consider how often the Savior wove important gospel truths into stories about planting, caring for, and harvesting crops. A couple years ago, as I worked to clear the weeds from two sections of my yard, I thought about His teachings. What might He teach about repentance and weeding out sins, I wondered, if He could put my experience into a parable?
The Parable of the Cultivator
A humble laborer possessed a small, overgrown spot of ground in the heart of her master’s vineyard. Under the master’s care, the laborer began to cultivate the land. First, she cleared the larger weeds. But once they were gone, she noticed the small, deep-rooted thorns and thistles.
As she worked the parched, cracked earth to remove the small plants, some broke off at the stems, leaving the roots embedded. She could leave the hidden roots, she reasoned. But knowing the purpose of the spot, she continued to work, digging and struggling and turning the earth until nothing was left but rich, fertile soil.
Once the soil was prepared, the laborer planted tiny seeds. By and by, the seeds grew into fruit-bearing plants. But the weeds continued to grow. So, the laborer returned day after day to remove the unwanted growth, roots and all. Because she continued to remove the unwanted weeds, the plants flourished, and the laborer and her master rejoiced in the fruit of their labor.
The Big Weeds
In the process of yielding our hearts to God, we have to clear the big weeds first. These weeds include obvious habits or beliefs that run contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ—our “natural man” tendencies which make us an enemy to God (see Mosiah 3:19). The prophet Alma taught that this weeding process requires humbling ourselves, trusting God, and being faithful to the end (see Alma 5:13).
It’s back-breaking business. It means thrusting in the shovel full-force to break up the earth and loosen the roots. It can hurt. But the outcome is worth the effort. The more we grip and tug and pull to remove those big weeds, the clearer our hearts become.
The Small Weeds
But something unexpected happens when we clear the big weeds. The smaller weeds become more visible. In our efforts to become more Christlike, the Lord helps us identify the things we still need to improve.
Working on the small weeds takes time and patience. Like the young rich man in the New Testament, we have to humbly ask the Savior, “What lack I yet?” and then have the courage to make the changes (see Matthew 19:20).
The Lord doesn’t show us our small weeds to discourage us. He does it to help us remove them and become better. The scriptures teach, “Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:5–6).
The Pesky Roots
Sometimes in the process of repentance, the weeds brake off at the stem, and we might be tempted to leave the roots in the ground, only mostly changing the things we’ve been directed to change. The problem is, mostly isn’t good enough when it comes to turning our hearts over to God.
Elder David A. Bednar taught that when we stand before our Savior at the Final Judgment, we will have “’a perfect knowledge’ (2 Nephi 9:14; see also Alma 11:43) of all our rationalizations, pretenses, and self-deceptions. Ultimately, we will be left without excuse.” Any roots left unpulled will stand against us at the last day.
The Weeds Keep Coming
No matter how often we repent, we continue to make mistakes. That’s why we are commanded to repent every single day. Repentance, then, is more a process than a single event. That’s the blessing of the Lord’s Atonement. If we continue to weed, He promises, “As often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me” (Mosiah 26:30).
The Tools of Repentance
We have several tools at our disposal to access the healing, enabling, forgiving power of Christ’s Atonement. When we use these tools, we can keep the weeds out and turn our hearts to God.
Prayer: Repentance should be a natural and regular part of our prayers. God does not expect perfection. Rather, He expects us to bring our imperfections to Him so He can help us overcome them. When we seek forgiveness through prayer, we can apply the atoning blood of Christ, which “cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
The Sacrament: During the Last Supper, the Savior introduced the sacrament. This holy ordinance allows us formal access to His Atonement. Each week, as we penitently take the bread and water in remembrance of Him, we essentially pull the weeds that have regrown throughout the week.
The Bishop: Sometimes, the depth and strength of the weeds require specialized tools. The bishop, as an authorized representative of the Savior, can help remove the tougher weeds.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ: Empty dirt grows weeds faster. If we fill our hearts with the power and protection of the gospel, the weeds don’t grow as easily. Studying the scriptures, serving others, keeping the commandments, understanding the plan of salvation, making and keeping covenants with God, and attending weekly worship services protect against the weeds.
Keep Working in the Garden
As I look out my window this week, I have more work to do. It’s an ongoing process. But I know I can do more than grow beautiful plants this season. With the Lord’s help and encouragement, I can look deep within myself, work diligently to remove the weeds, and cultivate a heart longing to be His.