Today is the second half of the two-part series on the image of the rooted tree as a metaphor for how we grow and face challenges. In the first part, we talked about the use of garden and tree imagery in the book of Colossians. Tree roots take up nourishment for the tree, help it remain anchored, and slowly break up rocks in the soil. I shared a bit about two different seasons in my life that were particularly rocky, and how practicing intentional rest—dwelling in the stable soil of peace—was one important part of breaking up those rocks. Today I am going to continue with the second part of what roots teach us about how to face hardships: fill yourself up with God’s nourishment. Be sure to read the first one for the context.
Fill yourself up with God’s nourishment. Just like a tree takes up water and minerals from the soil, so we too take up nutrients from the rich soil to be strong enough to face the rocks and dry seasons of our lives. We need to be mindful of what our bodies, minds, and hearts consume. We need to become full of what is beautiful and true. In the Bible, truth refers to not only what is right and good, but also the writings of Scripture themselves as well as Christ as the incarnation of truth. In Colossians, Paul puts it as, “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding ” (Colossians 1:9b) and then again “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Colossians 3:16). In his characteristic mixed metaphor, Paul writes that taking in God’s truth is like simultaneously being filled with good food, living in a safe place, and listening to beautiful music — all ways we understand that something outside of ourselves can come into ourselves, change us, and become a part of us—food, home, art.
For me, the metaphor that resonates most deeply for how we can be strengthened and become a part of something outside of ourselves is food. Now, before you think that I am going to say that Paul was an advocate for the Paleo diet, I know that we are called to a kind of freedom in Christ away from laws, including laws about food. Paul, in Colossians 2:16, writes, “Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.” But that being said, when I stopped eating foods that were making me sick, I could feel in an embodied sense what it means to be well-nourished.
For a month we did an elimination diet and took everything out that people are prone to having a hard time with — grains, dairy, eggs, night shades, seed oils, processed meats. And then we added it slowly back in, and I could see with feverish, nauseated, exhausted clarity when I was putting something into my body that wasn’t good for it. And I would encourage you, if you are struggling with anxiety, auto-immune conditions, or anything else that can’t be resolved easily, to consider food —keeping in mind our freedom in Christ. What we consume can make us strong or can make us sick. When we consume what is good and wholesome, we grow stronger. From consuming the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to the institution of the Eucharist—Christ as the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the cup of salvation—the Bible is full of food metaphors to explain how we live and die. We are to feed on the Word and Sacraments, because it is the nourishment we need. But, we are also to read good books, and look at transcendent art, listen to beautiful music, and be part of authentic communities that care for us.
It is not always easy to choose continually to only put into your mouth or your mind what is truly good. I am still in process with becoming disciplined in many of these areas. Self-care and a rich devotional life take effort, and sometimes I do not do what I know I should. Also, not all the rocks I wrote about last week are gone; some are still in quite large pieces. I still struggle with body image. Switching the way I ate meant that I am about 40 pounds lighter than I was at my heaviest point in grad school. But it is still hard. I don’t like to talk about body image much, but I know that so many people struggle with it, and we need to be people who are willing to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. When I am feeling down, I can still hear those voices from when I was younger that whispered that I wouldn’t be lonely if I were thinner, and more beautiful.
And the church isn’t always the refuge for this that it should be. Evan gently pointed out our first year of marriage that I had the most tears and rejected outfits on the floor when I was getting ready for church. I remember what it was like, in the early days of our church, Advent, to be the heaviest woman at church. I know we long to be men and women who aren’t wrapped up in body image issues, who don’t judge each other, because we don’t judge ourselves. I am in process, but along the journey I’ve found that it helps if I continue to do things with my body just because it’s good for me, not just because it burns calories the most effectively. Also, if I can continue to fill myself up with the Truth, I can identify more clearly what are the false whispers offering me empty promises and destruction.
But, even though there are real struggles, I can also know that there has been such significant rock breaking that has happened in the past three years. There are a number of things that are concretely different in my life now. I am not in a PhD program. I am writing a novel. It is hard work, but wonderful. I feel so blessed to be able to write and create and dream at my keyboard. I am nannying two little ones; what a joy to spend my days on playgrounds and helping little ones navigate the big feelings of being human. I am writing this blog about all I have learned about healing and making room for creativity. I am tutoring, often kids who need an encouraging word about their writing or need someone to advocate for them to get tested for dyslexia.
And here is the thing about those rocks. When a tree root breaks through the rock, slowly through the Living Water that seeps into the cracks and over the season expands and contracts to break the stone, the rock is turned to powder. And that powder, that mineral rich powder, feeds the tree. We are able to take in the goodness from those horribly hard and stony pastures, and we can become wounded healers.
In the image of Tolkien in The Two Towers, we can turn the terrible towers of evil stone into a place of clean water. He writes that as the Ents marched they sang: “To Isengard! Though Isengard be ringed and barred with doors of stone; though Isengard be strong and hard, as cold as stone and bare as bone, We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door.”
Or of course, we can look to Matthew’s Gospel, at the moment of Jesus’ death on the Cross: “Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:50-53)
We serve the God who will never leave or forsake us, conquered death and sin and will be faithful to provide us with the strength, the nourishment, and the peace to be rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Amen.
How do you find that you are strengthened by the good things you consume with your mind, body, and heart?
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