Last year on my daughter’s first birthday we planted a tree.
We had been hoping to plant a tree somewhere on our property ever since we bought the house, and our little girls’ birthday was the perfect excuse. My husband loves trees and my son was giddy at a large hole being dug, so they did the honors. They diligently watered it too – keeping a low flow on it for hours every so often so that when it got watered, the water went deep.
The little tree flourished and survived its first (albeit kind of lame) winter like a champ. This spring it is covered in new growth and while the many Oklahoma thunderstorms have felled much larger trees in the last few weeks, this little one is stronger than before.
That little tree is thriving because it’s roots are deep. Trees can start out starved for water and grow their roots out wide and shallow in a desperate reach to find what they need. But trees that have what they need right where they are soak it up and send their roots down deep into the ground with much less spread. Those long watering sessions allowed the tree to expect that it’s need would be met. And now that the tree is more established it gets a long, long drink just once a week, but any rain is also happily accepted.
As I was reflecting on this the last few days I smiled at what a beautiful metaphor this little tree had become, as well as, perhaps, the answer to a question. What makes roots deep? What gives a person the stability to live with confidence and courage? What and what to people need to get there?
We need water. We need to be fed. We need to have our most basic needs met with such regularity that there is no longer that desperate, reaching search to find the things we desire to sustain ourselves. And I think if we’re applying this metaphor to the spiritual and emotional reality of people, the “water” we need is love.
But like I said in the story about our little tree – it’s the long, sustained watering, the long haul love, that sends the roots deep.
So what is that deep love? Where does it come from?
Well, ultimately, it’s only God’s love that runs deep. And God’s love can be poured out in others who then pour back out into us, but that kind of growing love – that only begins with God.
If you look around there are so many people who are sending out those wild, shallow roots just looking for the basics. What is hookup culture if not that? People look and fragment themselves and reach, but a lot of them ultimately fall over, and we wonder why.
God is calling each of us to be a tree, a sturdy, come-what may, tower of His strength translated – incarnate- in our world. And to do that, you need those deep roots. So if you feel unstable in your foothold, what can you do? It sounds like this is something that’s kind of done to you, right? How can you control how deeply God’s love surrounds you?
Coming from other people, that you can’t control. You can try to surround yourself with good people that will love you like that, but people are only people and we will all fall short some time. So depending only on others to transfer God’s love to you is not your only option.
The love of others, even if it stems from God, is like the rain. It sort of comes and goes, and sometimes it’s enough but a lot of the time it doesn’t come with the regularity or the intensity a tree might need to flourish.
So we need to get the groundskeeper involved. God is like the gardener who will faithfully turn that hose on when and however long necessary for the tree to grow.
But as all metaphors break down at some point, this one dissolves here as we are not just trees, not passive agents in this relationship, but we are trees that much choose to allow ourselves to be watered. There is rain and other incidental overflow that gets to us no matter what we do, but the growing water is something we have to choose. We don’t supply the water, or turn it on, but we have to allow it to bathe us. We have to put ourselves in a place where it can.
Our cooperation in the watering is opening our hearts to God and sincerely and trustingly letting Him water us. Letting His word nourish us by spending time with it everyday. Letting our hearts flourish by spending time in prayer with God.
It is easy to feel like reading the Bible and praying are things that we do, but in actuality they are things we do to allow God to do something. Our willing presence is required, but that’s it. All the good stuff comes from the other side of the equation.
So if you’re feeling dry, as well all do at times, I would encourage you to look sincerely at how much of yourself you are devoting to letting yourself be watered. This is not to place blame on you for your own dryness, but it is a legitimate question. Looking back with that lovely 20/20 hindsight I see that the times where I was painfully dry I was also not creating any opportunities to be watered. God is a gentleman, as they say. He will wait for an invitation to work in 9 out of 10 cases. So make that invitation. That’s the first step, that needs to be taken every day, to grow those deep roots.
As a final note I want to mention that I know there are times when we can do everything in our power to be open and yet it feels like no water comes. And I will not pretend for a second to really understand why, but I can’t help but think about the first winter of our little tree. There may have been times that little tree was thirsty but there wasn’t any water flowing because it would freeze. The time was not right for growing. It was a time for the tree to rest at the point to which it had grown. Again, the metaphor is not perfect, but it can lend a little clarity perhaps.
A good gardener knows what he’s about, and God is not just good, but the best. We can trust Him. That’s all there is to it. If we open ourselves on a regular basis to His watering love, it will come when we need it.
Here’s to plenty of water for plenty of growing.