There are a lot of creative analogies for creating healthy boundaries in your life. Or for getting rid of negative people or situations and surrounding yourself with better ones. Pruning, if you will.
But being the little novice container gardener that I am, I’ve found one that I kinda like.
As a child we would fill our garden with all sorts of things. My mom was especially good at growing gourds to decorate with through the fall. And we always had success at growing peas and corn and pumpkins and zucchini. Occasionally, we would try something new. Just for fun.
We tried lettuce. It never got very big, and I always thought it tasted bitter. But then again, I’ve never really cared for lettuce. One year after I was married, my husband and I helped my parents plant their garden. We planted like a dozen rows of potatoes. Ok. Maybe only two. Regardless… not a single potato grew. I hope they didn’t blame their hired help!
And through the years, we would occasionally try our hand at carrots, though not successfully.
So when I decided to plant my container garden, I was excited, discouraged, and challenged to read that carrots are a very popular and easy container vegetable. (Maybe that’s why they never worked in my parent’s big garden?)
As I shook the little packet of seeds out all around the base of my Tomato plant, my dad watched and wisely warned, “Now… the hardest part for me about carrots was thinning them out. I couldn’t bear to get rid of any, so they never grew very well. But you have to thin them out. Make sure you thin them out!”
I listened. And I read up on it. And sure enough, when they get to be about two or three inches tall, start thinning out the weak ones. Or the ones that are growing too close to others. Leave plenty of space for them to grow!
So I did.
Two inches later I had little piles of carrot tops scattered all over my deck. It was easy! What was my dad complaining about?
Until two weeks later when they were closer to 5 inches tall… and I had to thin them again.
The first time, they were just tiny white roots. They already smelled like carrots, but there was no actual carrot there. It was just like a little weed.
But now. A couple weeks later. They had developed a hint of orange. The roots were bulging at the base of the head and were starting to look like little, tiny, carrots. So much potential! Doing so well! Did I really have to pull these out and throw them away?
But I did it. Knowing that my final crop would need space to grow deep and wide and be yummy.
It was the next thinning that really got me. (see picture) These were real carrots. A little smaller than my pinky finger, but carrots, nonetheless. There was enough meat on them that I could wash them and eat them. A few more weeks and they could be fully grown, chopped and thrown into my chicken pot pie.
But not these.
These had to be pulled.
These had to be thrown away to make room for the others to grow and flourish and make chicken pot pie.
And it was really, really hard! Knowing that there was nothing wrong with these carrots except that they were in the way of the successful growth of the others.
And then it hit me.
There are things in our lives that we periodically need to thin out.
They are not always bad things, but often they hinder our growth in other areas. Buying more shoes. Adding more Tupperware. Doing a few things well, rather than many things not well. The comparisons are endless.
Unfortunately, sometimes this hurts. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like the best thing to do at the time. Sometimes you end up hurting another person in the process. Because hey, nobody wants to be told they’re a weed. But truth is, there are weeds in our lives. Or carrots who have grown a little too close. Who are holding us back. Who are leaching all our nutrients. And they very, very carefully and lovingly need to be removed.
So we can grow.
Another thing I love about this analogy is the timing. If something hasn’t been in your life very long, it’s not too difficult to remove it. Not much pain. Not much regret. Little damage done. It’s when something has been there a long time- A habit. An addiction. An old couch. A person you just can’t say no to. Or can’t imagine your life without.- that things get tricky. That it’s difficult. That it hurts. You pull that thing out and look at it. It’s tempting to see the good. To see the positives. To see the potential. What it could be. But the fact is, it’s hindering your growth. It’s holding you back from being all you can be. Is it worth it?
The best part about the carrot analogy, though, is that in some cases, the carrot thinnings can then be transplanted into another pot. If great care is taken when the removal actually happens, and then they are immediately transplanted into a new environment that has been adequately prepared, there is a good chance they will survive. They don’t have to be thrown away. They can move on. Take on a life of their own. Continue to grow. It’s a lovely picture, isn’t it?
And that’s where my analogy crumbles… because a carrot can’t make that choice for itself. I threw mine away. I could have tried the transplanting, but I didn’t.
It’s people that may need to move on. Go find their own pot. Make a little hole for themselves to live in. You can’t guarantee that this will happen, but you can be an encouragement by being a strong, healthy little carrot yourself.
And growing deep and wide in your new found space.
But never forget that it’s the carrots beside you who help you grow straight and tall. You can’t isolate yourself completely. But you can be healthy. And you can be free to grow. And you can be you.
You little carrot, you.
I might add, it helps to have a Gardener whom you trust who is not afraid to do a little thinning for you.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11