Lessons from the bramble: observations of an occasional and untaught gardener #6-10
“You must be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” – John Owen
6. Some brambles are absolute monsters, five- or six-headed beasts that extend for yards with great gnarled roots and aggressive growth.
- There are some monster sins, deep-rooted and aggressive, bristling with danger. They erupt in many directions, often from a common source. Wickednesses like pride, lust, envy and hatred are such monster sins, throwing cruel tendrils in various directions from one great gnarled root.
- In dealing with such a sin, you may pluck up the offshoots, and yet fail to identify or trace (or even simply neglect) the source. If you do so, it will send out shoots again. By the same token, you may identify and begin to deal with the main root and source of many sins, and find that the tendrils sent out have themselves taken root, and must also be individually dealt with.
7. Brambles often form a network, but can survive alone. In some cases, tendrils snake across the ground from one place to another, putting down new shoots as they go. These tendrils can sometimes be traced back, in order to deal with a whole plant. More often (sometimes unseen, and often if grasped) they snap, and each shoot separated from the other survives by itself. In some instances, a whole network develops where there seem to be several key nodes, or even some sort of ‘mother plant’ from which all the rest originally came. Regularly, these key points seem to be the smallest, with perhaps only one or two tiny leaves showing. However, when you dig below the surface, you find a great root, often with an underground as well as aboveground network.
- Sins rarely exist in isolation, but as networks. When we begin to deal with one, we find it connected to others. So, for example, pride, envy and bitterness are generally linked. It is necessary to keep tracing out the networks, eradicating the network element by element.
- If you start dealing with one of these networks, you will find that it is hard to trace all the lines. It is almost like a self-defence mechanism, where they will detach to survive. Although connected, each separate element must be traced out and dealt with individually.
- Sin breeds sin. Allow one sin to take root, and you will shortly find that it has developed a cluster of other sins around it.
- There seem to be some ‘mother sins’ – perhaps a constitutional sin (one to which our very character inclines us) – from which other sins proceed. Some sins particularly seem to breed others: pride, for example, or lust. Typical off-shoot sins include dishonesty, suspicion, imputing evil, and the like.
- Some of the sins with the greatest spread are the least conspicuous, but have the deepest roots. Again, these key nodes can be difficult to spot: it is easier to deal with the outlying sins than to trace them back to the main plant and dig it up and kill it. Beware sins that look inconspicuous.
8. Brambles are often hard to spot. When they first sprout they can look innocuous, or grow low to the ground until they establish.
- When sins take root, they will not begin by trumpeting their existence. They will establish themselves inconspicuously but effectively, and then the real battle will begin. Therefore learn to identify and deal with sins before they establish themselves.
9. Bramble roots and plants cannot simply be left lying around once they are dug out. If they are in a remotely fertile place, they often take root again.
- Do not simply isolate a sin and then leave it ‘lying around’. Never leave sin partly dealt with, or it will take root again, perhaps in a new place. When you have identified it and dug it up, destroy it without mercy.
10. A mature bramble often has a thick, hard root network below the ground. The only way to get it out is to dig it out. This often ruins the ground, which must then be cultivated as from scratch.
- Dealing properly with sin often rips up the ground of our lives, and ruins whatever fair outward appearance we might have had. The removal of sin is not an attractive process in the short term, but is necessary for long-term cultivation.
- The struggle to remove sin may leave great gouges in our hearts and souls and lives, and scars that take a long time to heal.
- Sins having been addressed, the damage caused needs to be repaired. That may require starting from scratch in a particular part of our lives, turning to it as for the first time, and beginning to nurture, again or for the first time, the requisite graces of the Holy Spirit.
- Removing a big bramble can leave the ground looking very desolate. So the wreckage left behind by sins robustly dealt with can be discouraging, but we need to remember that, though grace may not be immediately flourishing, neither is sin.