April 28, 2010

Rooting Out Neglect
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor

"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" - 1 Corinthians 10:12

Ah, spring. The smell of fresh cut grass before a rainstorm, the chance to bask in the sunshine, the taste of strawberries coming back in season. The opportunity to plant flowers around the mailbox. The task of clearing out the hundreds of pine and oak sprouts in the backyard. Yes, hundreds.

I wish I was exaggerating, but this is another "joy" of our formerly foreclosed home. We have several beautiful old trees in the backyard - mostly oak and pine - and we are contending with more than the pollen. The former owners let nature run its course. We've made piles upon piles of young pine trees pulled up with their taproot, so I can finally see the street behind them. I still find one or two little ones whenever I go outside though. The oak sprouts and saplings have only declared their presence in the last couple weeks, when the leaves unfurled. Currently, one side of the yard is a bed of green all under three feet tall. I've dislodged a few, but they don't give up nearly as easily as the pine trees. I'm tempted to let my husband just mow down the little ones every couple weeks.

According to neighbors, the backyard was an Eden five years ago. Judging by the azalea, liriope, and hosta I've uncovered under four inches of dead leaves, I believe them. But no Eden can withstand the effects of nature without a devoted gardener. After the gardening couple sold the house to new owners, the beauty disappeared. There's no grass, and the hundreds of trees certainly didn't root since September, when we bought the property. Like the house, which had been sorely neglected, the yard had suffered a similar fate. Sometimes I wonder when we'll stop cleaning up the previous owners' neglect and start the real progress.

The effects of neglect sneak up so gradually. I know little about the previous owners, but I doubt they made a conscious decision to abandon the care and repair of what was theirs. But as the weeks turned into months, the task of maintaining must have become even larger, as those little sprouts grew inch after inch. Soon, the enormity of starting must have subliminally dissuaded them from any real attempts.  

In her classic allegory "Hinds' Feet in High Places," Hannah Hurnard wrote of a similar plight facing her main character, Much-Afraid. The young woman, after finally making it to the Shepherd's altar, truly wants to sacrifice her own wills and desires. She wants to be free to follow the Shepherd without the choking vines of her old nature. But she discovers that that nature runs much deeper than expected:

"[Much-Afraid] put out her hand and with one final effort of failing strength grasped the natural human love and desire growing in her heart and struggled to tear them out. At the first touch it was as though anguish pierced through her every nerve and fiber, and she knew with a pang almost of despair that the roots had wound and twined and thrust themselves into every part of her being. Though she put forth all her remaining strength in the most desperate effort to wrench them out, not a single rootlet stirred." 

Much-Afraid begins to panic, as she realizes that the years she allowed those desires to creep - while she did nothing to stop their coming - have allowed that old nature to take a deep hold. She cannot break free of it herself, not anymore.

The longer the weeds are neglected, even in a yard that looks beautifully exotic and natural, the harder they will be to root out when the lazy gardener notices. This is what I hear Paul saying when I read 1 Corinthians 10:12. All of the sins he listed beforehand? I've pruned them away for a good while, haven't I? I'm going to church, walking the grounds, enjoying the company of other Christians. I'm "standing firm" in the faith, aren't I?

Paul's warnings come exactly to those of us who think we have the Christian life figured out. When we stop deliberately guarding against sin and neglect the garden, thinking it will be all right, that's when we've already fallen. When we forget the danger, we let it in.

Much-Afraid's inability to root out her old nature was not the end of the story. The priest at the altar takes it for her, and she finds Grace and Glory in place of her fear. We all rely on a great High Priest to intercede and enable us to make such sacrifices. And we're focused on tending his garden and our relationship with him, the weeds are choked out by the beauty springing forth.

Intersecting Faith & Life: It's so tempting to step back and let my life proceed as it will. And yet, this passive attitude not only makes me miss the little sins that will grow, it prevents me from seeing something even more beautiful. Who knows what God has planned for our lives if we will keep following with diligence? Let's pursue that beauty with all our hearts.