Jan 11, 2009

Bitter Roots

Our sins may be taken away, but it is likely that the source of our sins is still within us, and so more plant-root-systems of them are continually generated. There may be some defiling “bitter root” (Heb. 12:15) of sin within us that keeps producing rotten fruit. To live in righteousness consistently we have to uproot the unrighteousness buried in our souls. - Abbot Joseph, Uprooting Unrighteousness

This is right where I am today, this year - realizing the bitter roots that have grown deep and strong in my heart over the past 30 years of evangelicalism. It wasn't for lack of trying and pursuing those avenues which I thought would strengthen my faith and deepen my walk with Christ. These were the prescribed routes of evangelicals whom I respected and whose books I read with eagerness, whose lives I imitated with great hopes and expectations. But many evangelicals don't have an understanding or even ponder the Eastern concept of "spiritual struggle". Well, they would say that they do, but the phraseology used is "spiritual warfare" or "becoming more like Christ" or "living the Christian life". There is a great emphasis on knowing and understanding scripture and applying it to your life situations. But every year I seemed to deal with the same issues, the same weaknesses, the same failings.

[caption id="attachment_133" align="alignleft" width="190" caption="Secret Garden-book cover 1911"]Secret Garden-book cover 1911[/caption]

You know, in Dallas we have a terribly persistent and ugly weed that thrives in heat and tenaciously imbeds itself in the ground - dallisgrass. I'm not sure why the name is so similar or which came first! The most frustrating aspect of this weed (and most all other weeds) is that you can't just pull up what you see.  You have to dig down deep and pull everything up - plant and root - to get rid of it. And, guess what? The dallisgrass root is very deep!  Sometimes you don't get all of it the first time and it returns in full force. Some of oursins are like that. We'd like to have a magic tool to pull them out, but most of the time it requires persistence, an attitude of humility and much prayer.  I suppose the first step is asking God to show me what plants in my garden are weeds and which are healthy plants that will produce fruit.  Sometimes it's difficult to tell. As an evangelical, those weeds were spelled out rather clearly - lack of commitment, judging others, greed, lust, gluttony, anger, gossip, materialism, selfishness.  Living the Christian life consisted of keeping these in check and pursuing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as if that would sort of counteract the ill effects of the other. In essence, it was sort of a grand behavior modification program. But now as I reflect upon it, it never really got to the source of the problem.  I was constantly monitoring myself and trying to keep things in balance. It was exhausting. I think that many of us turned to super involvement in church activities and ministries as one way to keep things in check, prevent failings in certain areas, and feel a lot better about ourselves. But these efforts oftentimes ended up being done in the flesh and of no value in regard to pulling up our own nagging roots. We weren't digging deep enough to make a difference.

This past year, as I continue in my journey in the Orthodox faith, I have come to realize that I have some weeds, some roots, in my life that have never been dealt with...really...deeply. I have to admit that I don't really know what bitter roots I have hidden in my life over the years. It's scary to ask God to reveal them to me. But I believe that is where he has me right now. He has some serious weeding to do in my life. I had convinced myself through all my Christian involvements and activities that my garden was lush and beautiful. In reality, over time it has become more like the "secret garden" described in Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 book by that title.  It has become overgrown and dark.  Light hasn't been able to get to it for years. But the seeds are there. The plants are waiting to grow and spread their leaves and produce beautiful and fragrant flowers. An expert gardener needs to spend intensive time in amongst the brambles and thorns, pulling out dead wood, creating beautiful borders and pathways, and fertilizing the starving vegetation. The birds need to return again and earthworms need to begin making their wonderful tunnels that bring air and nourishment to the roots. The balance needs to be returned. And I know the perfect Gardener!