I’ve had a rough year in the garden. That’s not quite accurate. I’ve actually had a run of bad years in my garden. Tomato stealing squirrels, tomato plant chewing deer, and disease-ridden cucumbers have been the story for a while now. In response, I’ve done what I can.
I’ve tried all kinds of things to keep the critters out of my fenced garden, and my efforts have helped to some degree. My trusty furry friend has also helped convince the interlopers that there is better and safer food to find elsewhere, but those darned cucumbers…
Looking at my plants would easily convince someone that they were sick, the leaves wilting and drying up one by one, working their way up the stem. With this apparent progression of some kind of virus, I applied all of the solutions to that problem that I could find over the last few years, to no avail. Cucumber plant after cucumber plant decimated.
What I’ve discovered recently is that the reason none of the things I’ve used to combat the virus worked is that my plants were not, in fact, sick at all. What? What I discovered, by just looking at the right leaf at the right time of day, was that my cucumbers were infested with bugs, squash bugs to be exact. The adults are easy enough to spot because they are brown and large – they stand out against the plant. But the juveniles are these little light colored things, that all sit on the back of a leaf and suck the life out of it. Drain it until it withers, wilts, and dies. Nice, right?
So I spent all this time applying all of these solutions because I assumed I understood what the problem was. I took a quick look and drew a logical, but completely incorrect conclusion about what was going on. What I failed to do was look at the problem a little more closely. I didn’t look at the source of the damage. I didn’t inspect the underside of those wilted leaves, where all those rotten little bugs were still hanging out, resting after their meal. I didn’t zero in on the very place where the problem was at its worst. I got distracted by what I believed was going on. The failure of all of my methods only suggested to me that I was using the wrong method, not that I’d gotten the entire problem wrong.
I have to confess that my garden is not the only place where I make this mistake. In my big life, I sometimes take a quick glance at a problem, suss out what I think it is based on some skeletal facts, and begin applying solutions immediately. If the solution doesn’t work, just try another one, maybe that will be the right solution for ME, right? Yeah, maybe, if I’ve got the problem pegged. How much time, effort, and heartache would I save myself if instead of trying all of the solutions serially until they all failed, I simply took a step backwards and questioned my definition of the problem? How would things be different if I dug in and looked at the source of the pain, suffering, or discomfort rather than thinking I recognize it from afar? How much more effective would it be to look beneath the superficial facts and really get a good, hard, honest look at what’s bothering me or what’s not working or where the pain lies?
The truth is that, just like in the garden, good solutions can ONLY come from a patient, honest, and diligent search for the truth about what’s going on. It is far too easy to decide that we recognize a problem and apply a comfortable solution. It makes us feel like we’re doing something. It makes us feel effective, at least until the solution doesn’t work. By going for the easy fix, by rushing to solve without digging deep, we actually prolong our pain, extend our suffering, and drain our own most important resources. We also miss the lesson inherent in the situation. We lose the opportunity to grow. We end up like my pitiful cucumber plants, worn down to just the core vine, struggling to hang on and make do. Making do doesn’t make for many cucumbers, and it doesn’t make for the full and bountiful life we could each have.