by Katie Smylie

March 24, 2021


For a few weeks now, my neighbor has been digging in her yard. Not the normal kind of spring gardening and planting of things, but the kind of digging that has her shoes muddy and her grass looking like the surface of the moon. I started to notice Maria was spending most of her spare time in the yard, suited up to attack what lay under the surface.

After talking with her, I realized she was going after roots—they had cut down a tree and the roots remained, threatening to cause problems with plumbing, with growing grass and perhaps even regrowth of an unwanted tree. She explained it to me, “I’m working out this crazy life here in the dirt.” It’s been a stressful year and hacking away at the roots feels cathartic. She is accomplishing something, one cut at a time. Her quest is succeeding. Just yesterday I said hello and she almost squealed, “look at the new one I found!”

Tree roots find water and nutrients beneath the surface of the soil. They provide stability when rains or wind threaten. Roots seek resources, making them a conduit of health—persistently looking out for the flourishing of their tree.

Paul refers to roots in the book of Ephesians. He says, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ . . .” (Eph. 3:17-18). That word, rooted, jumps off the page after watching Maria for weeks. Rooted. Reaching deep in the ground, pushing a millimeter at a time through the dirt and past barriers to find nourishment. Am I that desperate to seek after the incomprehensible love of Christ? Please, Lord.

I have to be honest, another biblical reference to roots gives me pause. In Hebrews, we see another kind of growth—it has the same persistence, but with a different sort of motive—“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Heb. 12:15). Bitterness has the power to stretch pesky roots out under the surface, but not toward a healthy end. Rather, its end is persistent anger, reactive fear and the inability to see the good.

I look with such awe at my neighbor’s yard full of holes, broken roots and shovels. It’s an image to me of attacking those bitter roots that it’s tempting to let grow. It takes time, focused attention and a willingness to allow the Spirit to transform my heart. Maria’s determination inspires me to work out the stress of this life and do the dirty work of digging out the roots that might grow amiss in order to make room for the healthy roots of love to flourish.

Katie lives in Brea with her family of 6. She and Maria have been living as neighbors and friends for 10 years. Together, they have been watching for God at work on the street, in the people and even in the dirt.