My husband, Daniel, and I just bought a house six months ago. We’ve found several areas of our new home that we’d like to improve, including the landscaping.
On first look, we have a lovely enough backyard: a patio for seating and dining, a nice patch of grass surrounded by rosebushes and fruit trees. By far, the best feature of our backyard is a well-established coast redwood tree that must have been there before our house was built thirty years ago. It offers shade for our house and keeps the backyard cool on hot summer days. Several birds and squirrels nest up there. It’s one of my favorite parts of the house.
Image credit: Marie Fang
I have big plans for how I want to transform the backyard. Most of the work I’ve done so far has involved pruning down an overgrown root suckers system that’s taken over the entire base of the redwood tree. Root suckers are shoots that sprout from a tree’s root system and, if left un-pruned, eventually grow into full-blown redwood trees. Not exactly what I want taking over my backyard.
The previous owner had tried to tame the suckers by covering them with cement bricks, then burying the bricks in a foot of tanbark. I’ve spent hours digging through tanbark and cement bricks, and navigating through a tangle of overgrown root systems. Once I got further down, I found all kinds of things, including far too many termites, spiders, and worms; layers of mud and dead suckers; and powdery mildew infesting the system. Each time I think I’ve cut down to the base of the root system, I realize there is still yet another layer beneath it.
Just this morning, as I was pruning the tree, I discovered that a large section of at the base of the tree at least a square foot in size is covered in rot. The rot had spread from the suckers onto the trunk and taken out a chunk of it. As I pulled away layers and layers of dead tree deep into the side of the trunk, I felt devastated. The tree might have died if no one had stopped to get deep down to the core of the problem.
Sometimes Daniel asks if I think it’s worth it to do all this work myself instead of paying someone to do it. I have put in over fifty hours of work into this tree, with plenty more to go. I’ve been left with sore muscles and all kinds of blisters on my hands.
But there’s something quite soothing about the work. As I uncovered the rot this morning, I realized this tree was an analogy for my soul. When we first moved into the house, this tree looked incredibly strong and healthy. Sometimes I can feel that way about myself. Yet as I put in the work of cleaning the tree, I found the potentially deadly rot at the core of the tree. If no one cared for me enough to look closely at my soul, then I could be at risk of rotting away too.
In my last blog post I spoke about a deep sin I wasn’t aware of. The season of pruning our redwood tree has paralleled a season of pruning in my own heart. A year ago I felt like I was strong and indestructible. After hours of conversation and self-reflection, I am finding unseen places that were slowly rotting away my heart.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to invest in our tree as a reminder that I absolutely have to do the same in my own heart. And just like our redwood can’t scoop out and clean the rot on its own, I need help from others with the pruning process, Inviting trusted people to search the hidden places of my heart has helped shed light on things I might not ever see on my own, such as an unhealthy tendency to come across to others as though I “have it together.” (I don’t.) I often know others have hit on something significant if I find myself reacting defensively.
As I prune the redwood tree, I’m reminded that pruning isn’t an easy process. I have to cut off new life to save the life of the tree. The tree needs time to heal from the hundreds of scabs I’ve created with my sharp pruning shears. But even though my own pruning process may be painful or involve the loss of seemingly good things, I know it is best for the overall health and growth of my soul.
In many ways, the tree has become my comrade. Much as I know the tree needs me to prune it, I know I need to let the Lord prune me to prevent my soul from dying and to promote my growth.
Marie Fang has attended The River since 2012 and serves as worship coordinator. Before moving to the Bay Area, Marie was involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and at Coast Vineyard Church in San Diego. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology, is a licensed clinical psychologist, and works part-time at a Christian practice.
Marie and her husband, Daniel, have been married since 2009. Marie is passionate about learning to love those who are frequently unloved and guiding others in their journey of developing a healthy sense of identity.