Near Mpumalanga, South Africa, are the marvelous wild fig trees of Echo Caves. Researchers have followed the roots of these trees deep into the earth, the deepest known root system in the world. These trees have survived and thrived in an arid climate for decades, wringing hydration from the deep, rocky soil. This is a lesson for life, as you probably know a person or two not unlike the wild fig trees of Echo Caves.
Their environment is harsh. They have endured the drought of loss, injustice, and suffering. Their circumstances have been oppressive. The soil that life has given them is rocky and hard. Yet, somehow, they thrive. Their roots must be incredibly deep.
But deep into what? Maybe the Apostle Paul gives the best answer in a beautiful first century prayer: “I pray your roots will grow down deep into God’s love and keep you strong.” It seems that those who flourish in the worst of conditions are those who have a connection to God’s goodness and grace, and refuse to blame God for every wrong that life dishes out. They have rooted themselves deeply in his love, rather than in bitterness or resentment.
Granted, bitterness is the easy route, the path of least resistance that sends shallow, malignant offshoots in all directions. Our resentment feels so justifiable, so satisfying, especially when we flip through the catalog of past hurts, regrets, ways we have been mistreated or harmed, and the conniving, unjust treatment inflicted upon us by others.
But bitterness cannot hydrate the soul. It can only poison the water and prevent love and grace from soaking in. If we are going to get on with life and blossom in the desert of our days, it won’t be because we keep going back wishing things could be different, bemoaning how life has been so unfair, or repeating and re-repeating how someone did us wrong. The only way forward is by going deeper, deeper into the love of God.
In the smallest rift, the smallest crevice or opening in the hardness of life, that is enough to find the depth of God’s love and for that love to take root. Yes, it feels like groping along in the dark. It is slow, pulverizing growth, sometimes millimeter by tiny millimeter, but it gives us the life we need, life so much more satisfying than the bitter shallowness that resentment offers.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author. His books include “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.