I sometimes get discouraged when I don’t see growth in a particular area in my life after a certain amount of time. Sometimes it’s over a period of weeks, months, or even years; at other times, it seems like it’s over a lifetime. A feeling of frustration comes over me and I find myself thinking, “I should be further along than this” or “Why does this still get to me?” The emotional energy in all of that could probably be summed up in the demand, “God, hurry up and fix me!” But it doesn’t end there. I also get this way about people in my life. I wish that God would change this person such and such a way. I wish that God would give this person insight into their shortcomings. Of course, all that could be summed up in the demand, “God, hurry up and fix them!” The tragically funny thing about this is that we are all walking around thinking in similar ways about ourselves and each other.
Today, when I was working in the yard, I saw a young crepe myrtle shoot sticking out right at the edge of a flowerbed. It was located about 4 feet away from an existing mature crepe myrtle and stood only about 12 inches high. I thought that it would be easy to grab a hold of it and yank it out of the ground. As soon as I started pulling, though, it became very apparent that it was going to take more effort than a hard tug. It didn’t budge an inch. So I grabbed my hand axe and started digging up the dirt around the base of the shoot. This revealed a surprisingly hefty root system. I managed to slide the pointed end of the axe beneath the largest root branch and started prying it out of the ground. When about 4 inches of it was out of the ground, I slid my hand around it and pulled as hard as I could. It was much longer than I expected. Before I knew it, I was pulling up dirt and grass with this root branch along a seemingly endless path. After following it out about 6 feet, I realized that I was messing up the lawn. Not wanting to disrupt a ton of sod to chase this thing down to its very end, I cut the root at that point. There were 2 other main root branches to dig up before the shoot finally came free. Fortunately, they were not as long as the first one I tackled. I stared at this thing after it came out of the ground. Amazingly, each of the main root branches was thicker than the solitary branch of the shoot itself. That little shoot seemed utterly unimpressive on its own. It had leaves and a small branch, but no height, flowers, or additional branches. But its root system was substantial; and if I had not interfered, it undoubtedly would have grown up into a big, tall tree that would have branched, produced flowers, and reproduced itself in a number of years.
It made me realize that we too often judge only by what we can see and measure. “I wish I/he/she were more patient… I wish God would help me/him/her overcome this addiction… Why can’t I/he/she overcome these fears?… I/He/She need(s) to learn to control my/his/her temper…” But these “shoots” that are troublesome to behold, with their sickly leaves and branch forms, are remnant shoots of an old root system that is in the process of being discarded. It’s not that the leaves and branches just need reforming – a little fungicide, a little insecticide, some dusting off. The entire pre-existing root system and its products must be displaced by a new one. We get distracted from this reality when we take up a mentality of fixing (or in asking God to fix) the problems that we see above ground. It is the new root system – the part that is hidden from sight – that is so fundamental to establish. A strong, fruitful tree will develop naturally out of a well-established root system. Consider this prayer by the Apostle Paul:
“I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
We are to be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. We tend to think that understanding His love in the gospel of salvation is only the beginning of our journey in Christ; but it is in fact everything – beginning, middle, and end. It takes a lifetime for the reality of the gospel – of God’s love for us as revealed in Jesus Christ – to sink into our innermost parts and develop into a full-blown root system. On the flip side, it also takes a lifetime for old roots that are well-established in corrupt ground to be uprooted through repentance. The Christian life involves constant rooting and uprooting. As we drink from the infinite well of Christ’s love and encourage each other to do so, those roots that have already begun to drink from it will grow stronger and more established. We will in turn become rooted, grounded, and ultimately, transformed. The next time you’re tempted to pray some form of, “Lord, fix me” or “Lord, fix him/her,” pray Paul’s prayer instead. See what it does to your heart in relation to yourself and to those in your life.