We’re in the middle of a series about the parables that Jesus told, and so I have attempted to write a parable for you – a story with a spiritual lesson tucked within. I have been thinking about the hardships and abuses that people endure and how these things continue to sting us long into our lives. We clear away the visible evidence but the root remains. It is only through exposure to the Light – dig it up! – and the courageous effort of forgiveness that allow for us to live fully and keep our hearts fruitful and flowering.
There was a girl who tended her every plant with loving care. With so much beauty around her, the toil in the garden was no chore. She relished parting the dark soil for a tiny seed – secretly bursting with new life – and patiently watering and weeding and waiting. Her garden exploded with colors and unmatched beauty. To whatever she put her hand, flourished.
There were others called on to care for her garden. The others were meant to love her and to teach her of wholesome and hardy plants, but because of the darkness in their own hearts, they did not. Instead, they planted stinging nettles all along the edge of her beautiful garden plot.
The girl was terrified as she watched the nettles grow and expand. They crowded her flowers and pricked her as she tried to weed. At night, she agonized: Can I cut them down? Am I supposed to accept them as a part of my garden now? If I reject the nettles, am I rejecting those who planted them? She was afraid to be without the others, although they had done her garden harm. She did not want to be alone.
One day, with the resolution of a clenched jaw, she took heavy kitchen shears in her gloved hand and cut every last nettle down at its base. She sighed with deep relief and began to live again.
A decade slipped by, and the girl, now a woman, began to feel the sting of nettles again. She could not see any evidence of the long-gone affliction, but day after day, the invisible nettles bit her flesh. Real drops of blood stained her garden gloves. She was afraid again. She was suspicious. She was angry. Why am I being hurt again?Who has done this to me?
Sunsets and birdsong were eclipsed by the fear and anger, for days, then years. Without the beauty of the sunsets and birdsong, and with the continuous stinging, the woman began to sting others with her thoughts and words. She became like the nettles she so despised. She could no longer smell the sweet fragrance of her blooms; the brilliant yellows and corals of the skies became as dark clouds to her eye.
On just-another morning, she found on her doorstep an old friend holding a small package. The friend had alert eyes, prayerful knees, and a well-worn smile that had warmed more than many. Inside the package was a small garden spade with a blade tremblingly sharp. The woman warily picked up the spade and read the simple note scrolled in a loving hand:
For The Bitter Root That Stings
She fought within, but in the end, decided to use the providential tool from her trusted friend. She stepped silently toward the edge of the garden – almost sneakily, as if to surprise – and moved to the dark corner that remained barren where the nettles had once been.
She plunged the sharp spade with all her feeble strength into the ground. There, just below the surface, was a thick yellow root. It ran deep and twisting, spreading tentacles far and wide; she could not see its end.
Hours passed. Sweat ran in rivulets down her neck and back. She was afraid but exhilarated. Each time she exposed a new portion of the root to the air and light it pained her own body – like an exposed nerve.
But when she hacked it free and flung it far from the garden, she felt increasingly hopeful, lighter, and younger; she started to feel the warmth of the sunlight on her arms again, her ears became unblocked to the chirruping birdsong.
As the sun dipped below the far-off line of mountain peaks and troughs, she reached the end of the bitter root. This deepest, most embedded yellow ball was like a clenched fist unrelenting, unreleasing.
She removed her gloves. (What courage!)
She grasped in bare hands, and pulled it free with the weight of her entire person. (Nothing withheld!)
She fell back hard to the ground. (The landing, painful!)
Gazing, stunned and sore, at the gaping hole made her surge with the weighty-lightness of freedom.