I’m gonna go all amateur botanist on you for a minute, ok? Ready? Alright.
Shrubs are a category of plant that falls pretty easily within 2 distinct categories: those with taproots and those with fibrous roots. Taproots grow deep into the ground in search of nutrients and moisture. Fibrous root systems are shallow and grow close the the soil surface. These roots are able to absorb moisture quickly from irrigation or rainfall.
Shrubs with fibrous roots can be very useful. They absorb moisture rapidly and can secure areas with loose soil. They tend to grow quickly and can be quite beautiful, especially in groups. But you can also guess their downside. Without deep roots, they can also wither quickly or be uprooted by violent winds and weather. They may not last as long as plants with deeper, more secure roots.
Ok, enough about plants. That’s it, I promise.
Why have we taken this little botany detour? Because the world we live in invites us to subsist with shallow roots.
It seems like so many of our problems result from the way our culture leads us to scratch the surface rather than dive deeply into anything. We get our news in short clips or 30-second soundbites, which is enough to arouse our outrage but hardly enough to understand an issue. Much of our interaction is through staged pictures online or through 140-character conversations, which are enough to feel like we’re connecting yet woefully insufficient to truly know another person.
We run our families from one activity to the next, but often fail to engage with one another during that time. We’re together but not together.
How many conversations have you had recently with someone who has expressed how tired or rushed or busy or overextended they feel? How often has that person been you?
We are all working hard to make our lives meaningful, but it’s often by pressing out wider, doing more and more, filling our homes up with more things that only lead to distraction and busyness.
The activity and pace of our world invites us to subsist with shallow roots, ones that stay close to the surface, picking up any nutrients we can possibly get as we move from one thing to the next.
Our lives are very wide. But often not very deep.
Shauna Niequist recently wrote about this desire within us for deeper roots:
What I want to do is savor this life—my life, my children, my community, this gorgeous world God created.
That’s what we all want, right?
To soak up the goodness all around us, to be aware of holy fingerprints everywhere, to walk through each day expecting and noticing those glints and shimmers of the divine right in the daily—in a hug, a tomato sandwich, a quiet moment, a text from someone we love.
That’s what I want, and so often I miss it.
One of my favorite parts of scripture is Psalm 1. It’s become a metaphor and a reminder to me of the type of person I want to be. And it’s a very countercultural picture:
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.
Psalm 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)
A tree planted by the life-giving river. Deep roots that continually draw from it’s energy. A tree that produces fruit in every season. This is what I long to be.
For ages, one stream of the Christian tradition has chosen to withdraw from culture. The thought has been that in order to deeply connect with God, you need to disengage, to seclude yourself from the vagaries and superficialities of life. Certainly this is needed at times. Jesus often retreated to pray and re-center himself with God.
But I would prefer to be the tree. The one planted in the middle of life, yet not far from the river. The one that will be subjected to the winds and storms and harsh environments that the world can bring. Yet also the tree that has deep roots, always connected to the River of Life, with the ability to not only survive, but thrive and produce each season.
I don’t want to have shallow roots. I want to go deep.
So what fills your soul? What makes you feel more full of life and love and joy and peace? What connects you to that River?
May we have the courage to resist the urge to push out wider. May we recognize the source of life available to us. And may we all set our roots deeper toward that life-giving stream.