Monday, May 2, 2011

Roots

I love to work in my vegetable garden, especially this time of year before the weather has gotten too hot.  I love working the soil and planting the seeds, then waiting with anticipation for everything to grow.  I love the harvest, too, for it is then that I feel like I've really accomplished something useful.  Surprisingly, I even enjoy the "weeding" process throughout the summer, the hours of pulling weeds, digging out old roots and making sure the soil is just right for my plants.  It just feels good to be outside with my hands in the dirt, working to produce something tangible. 

This is only my third year to plant a garden, and every year I learn a little more about growing certain things, how to get the best crop, etc.  I've also learned a few life lessons in the garden.  (For those of you who are seasoned gardeners, you may find my insights naive and amusing.  If so, smile at me and be glad for me, for we all have to learn in our own time and our own way.)  It occurred to me that in many ways, cultivating a garden is a lot like the Christian walk, but one way in particular: it's hard work!

My first two gardens were tiny by anyone's standards.  The first was about four feet by four feet.  Last year I expanded it to about 8 feet in length. This year, I went all out and turned our entire -- although very small -- back yard into my garden.  Last year I dug the 4X8 foot section of dirt by hand, pulling out grass roots as I went.  This year I knew I couldn't tackle the whole yard with only a shovel so I had a friend use a tiller to turn the soil.  I raked out what roots I could and then planted the garden.  NOT a good idea!  Now I will spend my summer chopping out the grass around my vegetables with a hoe!  It is laborious and sometimes painful work (as you can see by the blisters on my hands!), but necessary if I want my plants to have room to grow their own roots. 

I was working in the garden last night, chopping away at the grass that was poking its head out between my rows of baby vegetables and I started thinking about how similar this was to the "soil" of my heart.  Much of the garden that I was digging was soft and yielding.  Sometimes I would hit a patch of grass that gave easily and let loose without much effort.  And then there were the clumps that I literally had to chop with the edge of my hoe over and over until at last it gave way.  In the same way, so much of my heart is tender toward God and His leading.  I am ready for the roots of my faith to grow deep and strong.  Sometimes I come across something that He asks me to surrender to Him, and after some gentle tugging I do.  And then there are those things that are so deeply rooted in me, so entwined around my heart and my spirit that God has to repeatedly pull and work to get them free.  It is difficult and painful, but so necessary if I want my faith to grow.

Several weeks ago the minister at my church preached a sermon about forgiveness.  In that sermon he reminded us that God's forgiveness that wipes our sins clean also covers the sins of everyone else, including those sins committed against us.  He gave us the opportunity to nail those sins -- both ours and those against us -- to a cross, symbolizing our release of them.  It was a hard message for me to hear and a hard thing for me to do.  You see, I had been harboring anger and resentment and bitterness in my heart for quite some time, and these feelings were aimed at some very specific people.  I was hurt deeply by these people and I blamed them for some other very difficult circumstances.  I had been confronted with the need to forgive them before, but I very stubbornly held on to my feelings and refused to relent.  But this time I felt the edge of God's shovel as He dug down into the soil of my heart, got underneath that unyielding spirit and said, "This has to come OUT."  And just as I feel the roots of the Bermuda grass pop and break as I dig them out, I felt the strands of bitterness and resentment break and let loose as I chose to say, "I WILL FORGIVE."  It hurt incredibly and yet it left so much more room for peace.  There was certainly freedom in that moment.

After an hour of digging out roots last night in the garden, I know that my work there is far from being done.  I also know that God's work on my heart is nowhere near finished.  I know for certain, because I've already had to face those old familiar feelings of bitterness and chose to forgive them all over again!  I know this is no small task that I have undertaken, the cultivating of such a large garden.  Nor is the task of keeping my heart gentle and yielding toward God an easy thing to do.  But both have the promise of a sweet harvest someday, and for that, I am willing to keep right on working.

Hebrews 12:14-15 ~
     Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.  Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God.  Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
  
Colossians 2:6-7 ~
     And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him.  Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him.  Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Ephesians 3:14-21 ~
     When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.  Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.  Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
     Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever!  Amen.  





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