For those who don’t know, we moved into a new-to-us home last summer. (Because apparently we are just a little ridiculous – while in the midst of a new baby and a new book, why not add a move with four little ones to the agenda, right? Honestly.)
Anyway….when we first moved into our home, we noticed patches of white mould in the grass of the front yard. Not thinking much of it, we – and by “we” I really mean “my husband Brian” – scraped it off and fertilized the grass that remained and then we replanted in the bare patches. But the white piles of mould reappeared, choking out the green grass and eating up the health of the yard. We repeated this process for a few weeks: scraping, replanting, and then watching this mould reappear and spread. Each week, it took over more of the yard to our bafflement. What was it?
Brian mentioned the problem to an older neighbour who had lived on our street since the houses were first built nearly forty years ago. Our neighbour mentioned that years ago there was a tree in that exact spot. Bingo.
Brian dug down into the soil and sure enough, he hit the remaining roots of the tree. The stump, hidden below the surface, well buried, was rotten and poisoning the soil. The only way to remove the mould and stop the spread would be to dig out the stump and the roots entirely.
Now we have a rather large hole in our front yard and every few weeks, he treats the roots and soil with special tree medicine stuff (you see how I’m such an avid gardener?) and digs out a bit more of that rotting stump, slowly and painfully extricating the rot from the dirt so that we can move forward with our plans for the yard. It will take a long time to do it properly and thoroughly.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere for you, perhaps.
Many years ago, I had committed an egregious sin. And then I buried that sin down into my memories and my consciousness, even convincing myself that I had forgotten it, that its power was broken over me, that it wasn’t important any longer. But the entire time, it was rotting me from the inside out and the evidence of it showed up in my life. No matter how much I fussed over the cosmetics and appearances of my faith, there was a rotten root system poisoning me.
It’s kind of ridiculous how often I used to get mad at the effects of that rotten thing in my life instead of dealing with the cause, the rotten thing itself.
It took a while for me to be willing to dig down into the dirt and begin the process of rooting out not only the sin itself but the repercussions of it, the tangles of it, the ways that it had poisoned my relationship with others, my identity, my way of thinking, my sense of belovedness before God, and my very soul.
And then it took even longer to really truly be free. Piling more stuff on top of the rot couldn’t hide it – the rot worked its way out into my life and I was tired of just scraping away the effects, I wanted to root out the cause. That was the only way to truly be free and to move forward.
I’ve been thinking of that time in my life a lot lately. Because it was slow and difficult; it required faithfulness and help and counsel, because it was one of the best things I have ever done. Truly.
I look back on my life and I can see the turning point that finally happened when I stopped pretending everything was fine and instead I dug up the front yard of my life, leaving a gaping hole there for all the neighbours to see, and I got to work on rooting out the sin and the lies and the damage.
I think God waits for us in the holes of our lives, too. I didn’t have to do this excavation and healing alone. It seemed like finally unearthing the thing that was rotten and poisoning, giving it fresh air and sunlight, took away its power right from the start and the Spirit rushed in with mercy and love and grace and forgiveness and restoration.
I know people experience and encounter God in different ways throughout their lives but this remains one of the most profound experiences of my life: to encounter God so completely in the very place where I thought I deserved God least.
This is the Jesus that I know: the Jesus who crawls down into our rottenness, our stench, our poison, our brokenness, and then rather than pretend that everything is fine, gets to work on slowly and thoroughly and completely setting us free. Isaiah writes so much about farming and gardens from the place of exile, an image that has had me by the throat for years now.
And I know we all want to rush to the flowers and the streams in the desert because it’s so lovely and redemptive, but first there must be the rooting out of the rotten stumps and the boulders. The restoration of the dirt itself has to happen before the fruit can be borne.
We are still new to this home. It might take a year before that hole in the front yard is really empty of the rot and then my husband will fill it in with the good dirt, the healthy kind, and he’ll plant grass again and everything will be restored to health, even capable of growing things. And then we’ll finally get around to the rest of the dreams we have for our little corner of the earth: we have visions of hydrangeas or lilacs, maybe blueberries.
This post originally appeared in my e-newsletter back in January. If you’d like to sign up to receive the quarterly(ish) email click here and fill out the form.