A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (Isaiah 11:1)
I could not tell where one root started and another finished. It just looked like a convoluted mess of intertwining branches. We were hiking in Swallow Falls State Park on vacation, and I came across this bed of tree roots that had been exposed by nature’s cofluence of potent forces at work along a rushing river. It caught my eye visually, and reminded me of just what a complicated mix of rootage exists beneath the soil of every stately tree whose branches and leaves wave gently in the morning drafts of wind.
And I found myself thinking of families, as the day was bright and beautiful and we passed dozens of collections of people, a goodly number like ours representing three generations of hikers. All were smiling … all seemed to be having fun … all were taking photos along the river and falls and at other picturesque spots, like this tree root. And the preacher in me (who is never terribly far from consciousness, even on vacation) thought, “I wonder what their root system looks like? Where are those gnarled, knotty roots … where are the weak points … where are the sections that are dying off and weakening the entire family tree … where is the closely enmeshed tendrils strangling off life instead of nurturing it.” We all have a family system of some sort, so you know what I mean. Families are complicated.
But as I thought about what I saw, I also realized that these roots had been here a very long time. They had endured all kinds of hostile forces, yet kept their tree alive. Families are like that, too. I have encountered all kinds of families that appeared a bit odd … a bit unorthodox … a bit dysfunctional, even. And yet they thrived. I bet you have, too. But many … maybe even most … do quite well. Maybe gnarliness is next to godliness, to adapt a familiar phrase. Maybe connections with that level of depth cannot help but bring with them some over-enmeshment and strangulation on occasion.
So, in your prayers and reflection this week, think about families you know well. Think about your own family … your own deep and gnarly relationships. And consider the possibility that beyond the bumps and eccentricities and traumas that are part of every family tree, there lies a strength that while hard to see at times, may in fact be there in a deeper way than you regularly perceive. You might ask God in prayer to open a window or two of new understanding of or openness to some places of strength and resiliancy, that you had not seen before.
“The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.” (All That is Gold Does not Glitter, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)