Our kids have been out of school for summer break for the last 11 weeks. It is right about now that they are on the verge of killing each other. The pestering has reached an all-time high and their fuses are so short that reactions go from 0-100 in less than a millisecond. I often find myself watching these miniature explosions take place and responding with one of my super unhelpful but ever-available programmed dad replies, "Will you guys just stop it?" or "Seriously, guys, just leave each other alone," or "Ok, no one is allowed to talk for the next five minutes." My triggered responses are usually about as effective as telling a housefly to get outside.
My summer reactions remind me of what we usually do when it comes to sanctification. We tell people “to stop doing that”. When we do this, we are focusing on the fruit rather than the root.
Roots and fruits is a key concept within the "Awareness" component that is essential for us to understand.
For example, let’s say I have a problem with anger. I am known for my short fuse and I have flown off the handle multiple times. If somebody tells me to “stop being angry and stop having outbursts”, that’s only chopping off the fruit. I might be able to willfully try and control my responses for awhile, but the root is still there so the fruit will eventually grow back. When we just try to “stop it” and only chop off the fruit, it always grows back because the roots are producing the fruit.
In Matthew 7:17-18 it says, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”If we focus on the roots, and making those healthy, good fruit will be produced naturally.
The question I need to ask myself is, “What is causing the anger? What’s the root beneath it? Is it unforgiveness, hurt, shame, loneliness, abandonment, etc?” This is what I mean by awareness.The fruit is easy to see because it’s dangling on the tree, but the roots are under the surface and are more difficult to identify.
If you’re not convinced about the importance of focusing on roots instead of fruits, look at many of Jesus’s interactions with people in the scriptures. The woman at the well and the rich young ruler are two great examples. Jesus goes right at the roots with both of them.
For the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), her problem isn’t infidelity, she’s looking for men to provide her deep abiding joy. And somehow, even after a pattern of five men, she isn’t even aware of the root. Jesus has to come along and let her know that another new man is not going to work, but instead she needs living water.
The same is true with the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27). Jesus knows that this guy’s love of money is of higher importance than his love of God. Jesus knows the kind of status and value he is getting from all of his possessions, and he goes right after his root. It is interesting to me how this guy was also unaware just like the woman at the well.
Jesus lovingly points them both to the root of what's going on. He doesn't focus on their behavior but instead sees "fruit" as evidence of "roots". He doesn't waste his time telling them to "stop", he goes after the roots.
Let’s stop right there and take an obvious learning from these two stories:
If you don’t know some of your roots, but you see some patterns and habits in your life that you would like changed, just ask Jesus. Sit with him and ask him what the root is. He wants to show you. He wants to bring healing and wholeness to you. Do you believe he can? Friends, this is his business, and he’s still in business, he was raised from the dead, remember?
Jamie had a professor that used to say, "The degree to which we are unaware of something is the degree to which it controls us." Now that's scary, and that's exactly what happened with the woman at the well and the rich young ruler. I don't know about you, but that scares me to the point of not wanting to be unaware any longer.
I’ve experienced the reality of this roots and fruits truth multiple times in my life. The most powerful time was when I finally found the big boy, and that sucker was wreaking havoc in my life. I’ll try to keep this short.
I had just changed jobs a second time after leaving Young Life staff, and I still had this feeling of deep discontentment. This third job was with a great organization with incredible people, and a great fit for me. So guess what, it was time to take a long hard look in the mirror. I call it my “Oh crap” moment, realizing that I was the common denominator in these three jobs. I could no longer blame my discontent on any circumstance around me. I was the problem.
So I was determined to figure out this root and dig that bad boy up. I found a counselor to go to, and I was so ready that my root was exposed in my first session. In essence, my root was that I had learned to earn love and approval through success and achievement and that I was only really known for those things.
He explained that it’s like a bunch of mirrors all around me, which are all of my achievements, telling me who I am. When I left Young Life staff, all of my success, status, and achievements were gone, so all the mirrors were broken. I was disoriented because my identity came from the outside-in instead of inside-out. When the mirrors were broken, I literally was asking the question, “Who am I?”
About that time I was reading an incredible little book called Reclaiming Your Story by Merle Jordan. In one section she was talking about how we all have a “tape” playing with a core message. Mine came to me instantly:
I had done a lot of that in life, but it was never enough. It was like I had a black hole in my soul and each success, achievement, and even love, was being sucked out as soon as it went in. I was tired. I accomplished a lot, but I was exhausted and empty.
There are many more details to the story, but let me jump to the transformation part. Jam and I were at a conference for my work and we had a worship/prayer night. Some of our friends Anna and Alan came over to pray for us and I told them about my tape of “DO, ACHIEVE, SUCCEED, WIN.” Anna immediately said, well let’s ask God to give you a new tape, some new words to replace those. God spoke quickly and clearly. My new tape was:
“KNOWN, LOVED, SIGNIFICANT, and FREE… KNOWN, LOVED, SIGNIFICANT, and FREE…
KNOWN, LOVED, SIGNIFICANT, and FREE.”
I was 33 years old when this happened, so my original tape was pretty ingrained. But that moment sent me on a trajectory of transformation (God acting in my life to accomplish what I couldn't on my own). I typed out a morning prayer that involved this new tape that I recited almost every morning, and after about a year, the old tape was gone and the new one was playing. I think the Apostle Paul talks about something like this in his letters, something about putting off the old and putting on the new.😄
I’m not sure how this is coming across in writing, but if you can, try to feel the difference of “DO, ACHIEVE, SUCCEED, WIN Mark” versus “KNOWN, LOVED, SIGNIFICANT, and FREE Mark”. What do you feel? Can you sense the freedom and lightness? If you asked Jamie if she saw a change in me, she would tell you that I was a different person.
But I thought people don’t change? BS! People don’t change if they don’t pursue change and partner with God in the process.
Friends, the Gospel is about much more than forgiveness of sins so that we can go to heaven one day. Jesus and the new Kingdom he ushered in are all about healing, wholeness, and freedom. Redemption. Reconciliation. If you are experiencing bondage of any kind, Jesus wants to set you free from those things. The first step is growing your belief that transformation is possible. You have to grow in confidence that Jesus came to save but also to transform. You have to trust the vision Paul gave us regarding our spiritual formation. Then, you have to put in the effort of identifying your roots. Jesus wants to bring healing and wholeness, he just needs you to partner with him. Below are two very practical experiments to help you with the Awareness component on your journey toward transformation, healing, and wholeness.
Two Experiments I dare you to try this week:
Roots & Fruits: Draw a picture of a tree in your journal or on a piece of paper. On the branches, label the bad fruit that you see in your life: sin, habits, or patterns. Mine was "discontentment". Then, sit with the Lord, and ask him to show you the root of that fruit. Draw a line from the fruit to the root. Ask him more about the roots and see what he has to say.
Your tape: My tape was "DO, ACHIEVE, SUCCEED, WIN!" What's yours? Take a little time and see if it comes to you. Once you have it, ask Jesus what he thinks about that tape.