A few weeks ago I was working in our backyard trying to uproot this large, gnarly, old shrub. After some digging around the base I finally got the shovel positioned in such a way as to jimmy the root ball out of the ground. As I did so there was a satisfying flurry of snapping sounds as the extensive network of roots ripped apart underneath the dirt.
After I got the base of the root ball out I sat down on my knees and did my best to rip out the remaining roots by hand. Tugging on each one was like uninstalling wires installed by a crazy person. They went EVERYWHERE in a complicated, illogical pattern. As I was doing this I heard God’s gentle voice.
“You know that thing that keeps pissing you off whenever you think about it? That is a bitter root, Natalie.”
I was really convicted. I knew He was right. I knew what His word said in Hebrews about not letting a bitter root grow up. I recognized immediately that the particular situation that had hurt me was something I was letting fester and grow- becoming a source of bitterness in my heart.
Of course just because I knew it I still didn’t know what to do about it.
“How the %$&* do I stop it from taking root, God? I’m still really hurt and pissed. It’s too late. I’m already bitter.”
Thankfully that very night the Lord gave me a helpful image through the voice of a friend in a small group.
This group listened carefully to the particulars of my bitterness and my desires to obey the Lord in eradicating the root. After some time in prayer this one friend shared an image and a question that God had given her that she felt would be helpful.
She had grown up on a farm in Minnesota. She had a memory of helping her Dad uproot a large tree stump from a field. It was so large and it’s roots so widespread that after failing to get it out with chainsaws and shovels he finally enlisted the help of his tractor. He tied chains around the root ball and secured it to the tractor. The mighty tractor was able to do what they could not, tugging the root ball system up out of the ground, severing its ties to the earth. She remembers feeling the roots snap under the ground from where she was standing some 30 feet away.
Her question was profoundly simple, “What would it be like to let God be your tractor?”
I immediately felt massive relief.
Up until that point I had been so careful about bitterness. For four years I have been in this really frustrating season where the potential to become bitter is huge. So I have been mindful of the instruction in Hebrews and tried my best to behave and react in such a way as to nip bitterness in the bud before it dug it’s roots into me.
But this one hurt had slipped past my defenses and, despite my best efforts, had begun to grow into full fledged bitterness. I thought is was up to me to figure out how to let it go, how to forgive, how to stop feeling so angry and hurt whenever I thought about it. I thought that God was waiting for me to figure it out; impatiently tapping His foot, arms crossed, scowling at my sinfulness. I felt truly helpless.
But with this one image, God let me know I didn’t have to eradicate it on my own. I could trust him even with the feelings of bitterness that I thought were outside of his power. I still didn’t know what it looked like to “give it to Him.” But the knowledge that He wanted to help me was pure relief. I understood with happy clarity Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Since then the acute feelings of bitterness have been miraculously ebbing away. Slowly but surely. In 100 tiny ways He has been healing my heart towards this specific situation- a phone call out of the blue, time in prayer, a surprise email. Even though the situation hasn’t changed, God daily invites me to think of Him as a tractor- working hard on my behalf to remove the bitter root from my heart.
What would it be like to let God be your tractor?