From the Hills: How Deep are Your Roots?

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On March 11, 2011 at 2:46 in the afternoon, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan (and the fourth largest recorded in world history) lasted approximately six minutes. The epicenter was 45 miles east of the Oshika Peninsula. It was strong enough to alter Earth’s axis. 

The Tohoku quake triggered a massive tsunami. Reaching heights of 133 feet and traveling at a speed of 400 miles per hour, the wall of water hit the coast. Residents in the Sendai area had less than a 10 minute warning. Over 20,000 people died. So did almost all the vegetation.

In 1667, the daimo (a vassal of the all-powerful Shogun) planted 6,200 Japanese Red Pine trees as a living sea wall to protect his port village from storms. Later, an additional 70,000 pine trees were planted. They functioned well until the Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami. The entire grove was wiped out — except for one pine tree.

Why? What made that tree different? The answer is applicable to us all. The one that survived had deeper roots than all the others.

Families are a lot like trees. The wedding pulls two saplings up by the roots, transports them from where they were and who they were, and replants them side by side. From that moment on, two are one. No longer passive, they are active co-creators in God’s plan for the grove.        

God allows quakes to shake the ground under us. Storms of many strengths blow through us. Overwhelming tsunamis wash over our branches. They are terrifying, but each one forces us deeper into the soil. It is the storms that are responsible for the depth and breadth of our entwined roots.   

Ruth (in the Old Testament) understood being transplanted into a grove. After the death of her husband, she said this to her mother-in-law, who had also been widowed: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me." (Ruth 1:16-17)

Ruth knew God had planted her and she did not intend to dishonor her vows.  

There will come a time when the ground shakes, and a wall of grief and despair washes over you. Hold on to each other. Push your roots even deeper into the earth. When the storm passes, assess the damage and celebrate the benefit of surviving it together.  

Family conflict is frequently about the roots. Couples must learn the difference between shared roots and unhealthy enmeshment. Children must eventually be transplanted.  

What would you change if you knew a tsunami was coming? Maybe the pandemic was your tsunami and you suddenly fell into its chaos. Were your plans interrupted? Have you attended too many funerals? Have you experienced uncharacteristic fear?

In what condition is the soil around where you are planted? God asks us to be a source of nutrient-rich mulch, always ready to encourage whoever He plants next to us.   

Perhaps your soil is deceptively shallow. You look good on the surface — like the decorative dirt sprinkled by landscapers. What are you a few inches down? Are you cold and hard? Do the most robust weeds struggle to survive near you?

Maybe your soil is healthy and you welcome newly-transplanted foliage. But do you bully the plants that are different? God also has a plan for weeds.

Remember storms and conflict are not just inevitable, they are powerful events in God’s perfect plan.

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Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net.

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