“Mommy, look!” It was my spunky second grader, running toward me in the school hallway with something in her hand, ponytails bouncing up and down. “It’s your favorite! We planted sunflowers!” A long, skinny, bright green stem with just two small leaves at the top was growing out of the transparent plastic cup filled with soil that Madeline was holding in her hands. She held it up to show me the roots that were growing out of the bottom of the plant and talked to me about what she had learned in class, how plants grow and what they need to thrive.
She’s right . . . sunflowers are my favorite. Why? I have always loved that they are so bright, so strong, so cheerful and so varied. There are tiny sunflowers and gigantic sunflowers, deep red ones and golden ones, those that grow wild alongside the road and those planted in perfect rows at a farm. A few years ago my husband built a large, sturdy flower box for me at the side of our house. I would fill it with good soil and sprinkle a variety of small flower seeds over it with the reward of bouquets of blooms by the middle of each summer. One year I decided that I wanted to fill the box with my sunflowers – all shapes, sizes and colors. My children helped me pick out a stack of seed packets at the local nursery, all covered in alluring photos of the amazing flowers that were to come. We filled the box with rich soil, planted the seeds and watered diligently every day. Oh, the excitement of seeing a hundred or more tiny green seedlings pop up out of the soil! Each day we watered the seedlings and watched them grow . . . slowly, steadily over the weeks of the summer. They grew taller and taller and their stems and leaves were strong and sturdy. Finally after what seemed like “forever” there were buds forming at the tops of the stems. We waited and waited as the buds slowly opened. We thought back to those photos of flowers on the seed packets that we had bought so many weeks ago and held our breath.
But . . . wait. Something was wrong . . . something was very wrong. Some of the buds didn’t open at all. Some of the buds were too tiny and the flowers were complete but very small. Some of the larger buds only opened half way, and some of the others only had some of their petals. Many of the petals that appeared were skinny and thin, not thick and wide as we had expected. Our sunflowers looked pitiful . . . there were only a few out of the hundred seeds we had planted that came out even looking like complete, healthy sunflowers and those were very, very small.
In my disappointment and frustration I asked my neighbor – the one with the green thumb – what might have gone wrong. I explained to her that I had bought the best soil filled with nutrients, that we had planted seeds from brand new seed packets, that we had watered diligently every day, and that the flowers had received plenty of sunshine all summer long. She took one look at my flower box failure and said “Oh, Christina . . . don’t you see? It’s all about the roots. You had everything these flowers needed except for one thing. Their roots were limited by the flower box and sunflowers only thrive if they are rooted very deeply into the ground. They just weren’t rooted deeply enough.
Oh . . . yes, yes, yes! I just love it when God shows me pictures of what he is trying to teach me. I am just like the sunflower. Oh sure, I can try to grow and change on my own power, but along with the water, sunshine and rich soil I must be deeply rooted in the truth that Christ brings me in His word. God uses this illustration all over the Bible, in both the old testament and new.
“Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to grow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you.” Romans 11:16-21
I am on the Thin Within journey as many of you are, struggling desperately to find the peace that comes with turning to God as my stronghold, not food, not a number on the scale, not the size of my jeans. There is a battle raging within me on most days . . . and if you are on this journey with me then you know what I’m talking about. What is the answer? Is it outward change that comes with human willpower, the latest diet or over exercise? How well we all know how fleeting those well-meaning attempts are. There is only one path to lasting change and that comes from being deeply and solidly rooted in the truth that is God’s alone.
I am that sunflower . . . growing and changing from within. Sometimes I am growing so slowly that you really can’t see it on the outside at all, and that’s okay. Some days are harder than others, sometimes I don’t spend time in God’s word, sometimes I try to do it all on my own, sometimes I lose the battle in the moment, and that’s okay too. But then there are those days (or parts of days) that my arms are stretched out wide, my hands are completely open, and I am spinning around and around in circles, dancing because of the pure joy that I am feeling inside as I surrender to the one who made me. (Last night I felt this in the midst of making dinner, helping my daughter with a school project, doing laundry and getting a prescription ordered for my mother-in-law!)
“They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers – never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.” Jeremiah 17: 8
It was just last week that I was able to carve out an hour of my morning to take a walk in the Garden of the Gods,15 minutes from our house. It was cold and windy and I prayed as I walked, drinking in the amazing glory of God’s creation – the enormous red rocks, the bright green spring grass, the strong, sturdy evergreen trees. I walked briskly around a corner and I sight that I have seen so many times before stopped me dead in my tracks. It was an evergreen tree . . . strong and solid like the others, hardly moving in the face of the strong winds . . . but it was growing in what seemed like an impossible place. It was growing at least a hundred feet up, from the side of one of those amazing, giant red rock formations. How could it be? Roots! Roots again! Somehow over the years that tree had been able to send its roots down the cracks of that red rock, down, down, down, all the way down into the rich, nourishing soil below.
Deeply rooted, deeply rooted . . . just like the sunflower that my daughter brought home from school. I can only imagine that that tree struggled for a long, long time – years to be sure – before its roots were rooted deeply and solidly enough. I am looking forward to being like that evergreen tree, rooted deeply enough that I can weather the storms without being broken or battered down. Roots again, Lord! Roots! Lord, Lord, this is your battle and I surrender to you. And I smiled as he whispered “Have I told you lately how much I love you?”
“So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you. It’s as sound as the day you first heard it from me.” 2 Timothy 1:13
My daughters and I went to the nursery today to pick out a bunch of sunflower seed packets. We have a lovely spot in the backyard picked out, with plenty of room for wonderfully, deep roots, and we can’t wait to see what happens!
How about you? Where do your roots go? Do they run deep enough to help you weather the storms? Are you willing to surrender completely to God? Can you relate to Christina and her daughter’s excitement as they plant their sunflower seeds?