Strong Roots Come Before Fruit
A few years ago I felt that my word for the year was “Fruit”. In fact, I hoped and prayed that it would be a year full of fruit – spiritual fruit as people I loved came to faith, fruit of the spirit as I learned more and more to exhibit them, and on a more personal level; fruit of the womb.
Sadly, my year wasn’t what you would describe as fruitful!
Amongst all the words of 2020 like “pivot” or “unprecedented” or “social distancing” and “zoom fatigue”, another word kept standing out to me: the word “rooted” or “roots”. It hit me that you don’t get fruit if your roots aren’t healthy. So I focused on putting down deep roots with Jesus. The more rooted in Christ I became, the more I started to hear the word “abide”, so this is the first of a three-part blog: Roots – Abide – Fruit.
If you have ever had Jerusalem artichokes in your garden, you will know that their roots spread everywhere, and it doesn’t seem to matter what you do to them, plants pop up everywhere! Our neighbour planted a few in her garden several years ago and they decided to invade ours too. Now, I have nothing against Jerusalem artichokes, but I don’t want them in my garden plot (I prefer tomatoes, eggplants, etc.) so I decided to wage war on them.
I dug down several feet and literally pulled up metres and metres of roots. Every time I thought that I had cleared the area, I found more. These roots are tough: it doesn’t matter what you throw against them, they keep growing and spreading and thriving!
No wonder there are so many references in the Bible to becoming rooted in Christ. The deeper our roots are, the more we can survive tough times. I see this all the time with friends faced with devastating news, death of loved ones, serious illness or tragedy – and yet their faith doesn’t waver, it seems even to thrive. Their roots are deep.
We all go through seasons, and just as young seedlings have tiny delicate roots which need lots of protection, sometimes our spiritual lives are like that too – our faith, and our hope, can easily be broken. I killed a young tomato plant the other day, just because I was too heavy-handed with its root. It was only the slightest pressure, and nothing like the backbreaking attacking of the Jerusalem artichoke roots, but this poor tomato plant hadn’t had the time to become established. It withered and died.
What a reminder to us all to be gentle with ourselves and others who are struggling – maybe just a small amount of pressure will just be too much. Let’s not judge – but tenderly care for ourselves and for others who are at this stage; just like I do for (most of) my seedlings. They need daily watering, careful handling. Even when you start to put them outside to harden off, they need enough, but not too much, sunlight! Are we that gentle with ourselves or with others when we are feeling tender?
Space to Grow
The other thing I’ve noticed with roots is that they need enough space to grow. How often have I transplanted my seedlings to discover that the roots are all curled up in a ball? I learned this year that this can stunt their growth, as they do this because they have run out of space. It is the same when you plant them in the ground – I want to squeeze as many plants as possible into my garden as I am greedy. Counter-intuitively, that can mean I end up with less fruit overall as each plant fights for space, nutrients and light.
This pandemic has been tough in many aspects, but one advantage has been space to personally grow closer to God. Community is essential to our spiritual growth, but our relationship with God, and our spiritual growth, is a personal one as well. Too much of even good things can crowd that out. Like many others, I have been forced to develop healthy rhythms with God on my own, and this space to do so has definitely deepened my relationship with him and strengthened my roots.
As an aside, companion planting (planting certain plants next to each other) really helps some plants thrive, and this is true for us too. While space is necessary, close communion with others is also important for growth as well!
Learning To Stand Firm
My final observation on roots was when I looked at an old tree whose roots went out in all directions. Some were short, some seemed to double back on themselves, others were overcrowded and crossed paths, or looked like they were supporting each other.
I think our growth journey is like that too. Every experience we have impacts us, strengthens us, forms part of our character, or hurts and damages us. Often though, it is when we’re hurting or under stress that we reach down further into God’s love, desperately searching for the comfort, the refreshment, the strength that we need.
If you over water a plant, its roots remain shallow. It is deep, strong roots which allow trees to withstand hurricanes or tornadoes. It is deep, strong faith which allows us to stand firm when trouble comes. And it is also troubles and hardships (like a plant being thirsty for water) which can help us develop these strong roots.
A perennial annual?
Of course, most vegetables that I plant are annuals, so the cycle of care starts afresh each year, whereas trees have been around for decades or even hundreds of years. I think that as Christians, or maybe it is just me, we are a bit of both – or we go through cycles where both apply.
One the one hand I like to see myself as a strong, mature oak, whose experiences over the past forty years have put down deep roots, enabling me to stand firm. This has been true as I found, and continue to find, strength to stand and even thrive during our infertility journey. My faith and trust in God have been tested, but haven’t wavered.
Yet, in other areas of my life I can feel more like a tender seedling, when a word of discouragement, or a bad mix of hormones and lack of sleep can flatten me. In these situations I need to be gentle with myself and handle myself like a tender tomato seedling, rather than a stubborn and strong Jerusalem artichoke.
As Paul prays for the Ephesian church, so I pray for myself and for you, “being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Let’s be tender and gentle with ourselves, and with each other, while also making sure we develop strong, healthy roots, finding our nourishment and strength from Christ. How do you ensure that you remain rooted in Christ? I would love to hear your stories.