Please excuse the interruption of our Genesis study. Last week the Lord shared some powerful illustrations with me that I wanted to write down before I forget them. (As if that would ever happen. mind = steel trap = ha.)
About two years ago, a wind-storm claimed a big, beautiful Bradford Pear tree from our front lawn (you can about it here). I guess I can’t actually blame it on the wind—our top-heavy tree’s weak root system was at fault. Bradford’s roots have a tendency to grow shallow and often develop small branchlike roots (suckers) along the bottom of the trunk, requiring constant maintenance. Apparently this is true, even long after you think the tree is dead.
When our pear tree split, we had a professional remove it because we’d been cautioned that if the stump wasn’t properly ground, it could continue to produce these suckers. I’m not sure what went wrong in the process, but for far too long now I’ve been battling the suckas (which are aptly named, as they continue to suck the joy out of me each time I drive up to our house and see a mess of wild, wannabe sprigs where a beautiful tree once stood). I’ve since planted new things in the bed, including a baby River Birch clump tree, so I don’t want to simply dump chemicals on the suckers to get rid of them. Instead, my M.O. has been to ignore the mess for as long as possible, and when it gets ugly enough that it’s embarrassing, I get out the pruners and start hacking away as close to the ground as possible. Cover it all up with mulch, and Poof!.. suckas be gone. But I know they’ll be baaa-ack.
Last week, I finally decided enough was enough. I got out my shovel and went to work digging, determined to get to the root of the problem. It was hard work, harder still because I tend to do things the hard way (like shoveling barefooted in dry ground), but I was on a mission and I couldn’t help but wonder as I worked why it had taken me so long to take a real stand against the suckers. About half way through my task, sweaty and tired, I finally decided to accept some help from water. I drug out our As Seen on TV “Hose that Grows,” never having used it since it resides in my husband’s castle (a.k.a. our garage), not knowing that once you turned it on, it comes alive like a snake. I’d had it pulled taught into the flower bed, so the water pressure caused the nozzle to recoil and attack me straight in the gut. After a quick glance around to make sure none of my neighbors saw this, I tamed the snake and returned to work. Now working in moist soil, I marveled at the fact that I’d spend an hour struggling against dry ground—the water made it so much easier. Brilliant. I’d been working around the bed counter-clockwise, starting at about 2 o’clock and working backward. At about 5 o’clock, I stuck a gnarly root ball. A few full-strength shovel stabs (complete with vocalization) told me I was not going to get this guy out on my own. I continued around the bed and found another one at 4 o’clock, skipped on by it, and finished up what I could. I felt satisfied that I’d at least accomplished more than in the past, and decided to ask my husband to help me dig out the big roots later.
And that was the earthly account. Here’s what God was speaking to me through this process. Imagine the Bradford Pear as any group (family, church, company, nation) or individual—weak-rooted and top-heavy. A strong wind splits it in two—a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). It was no longer fruitful, so the Lord cut it down (Luke 13:6-9). But the root problem—the suckers, or sin (pride, greed, unbelief, laziness, worldliness, distractions, etc.)—wasn’t properly dealt with. It continued to produce sin—sin that was mostly ignored and only dealt with when it got messy enough that it became disruptive and embarrassing. But once the sin was tamed and hidden again, the whole process would begin again—until a commitment is made to get rid of the root problem. It’s a struggle alone, and the enemy (read: snake) will attack you from every side… but with God (living water), the digging becomes easier. To help us even more, God said it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), but designed us to work together. To truly conquer the sin, we need to share our burdens and stand together to keep it at bay. And sometimes, we need a fresh start.
So that’s where we are as our tree-saga continues. The River Birch I planted, known for its roots that grow deep and love water, grows up from one trunk but branches out as three or more. It is graceful and gently sways, even when sinister winds blow, secured by its deep root system. But early on, it’s still vulnerable. This spring, one of the three sapling “trunks” snapped after a frost and another never produced foliage—one lonely Charley Brown of a twig remained. But I didn’t dig it up and start over. There’s a time to prune and cut down and there’s a time to wait and nurture and grow. After a summer of new growth, two new sprouts have come up, volunteering to share life with the lonely trunk. I have great fondness for this little tree and all it represents—fresh starts, deeply-rooted community, hope—and am excited to watch it grow and flourish. It makes me smile when I drive up to my house. As for the suckers… I’m sure they’ll try and creep up again, maybe even attempt to choke out the new life that has been planted. But I won’t be afraid to dig even deeper next time and enlist whatever help I need to keep chipping away at that old root. Victory!
Matthew 18:15-20 (The Message)
15-17 “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.
18-20 “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”