Blackberries and Bitter Roots

For a number of years, I've been engaged in a war with the blackberry vines in my backyard. As you may know, wild blackberries thrive in the damp Northwest climate. Actually, they more than thrive--I suspect that they are plotting world domination. My blackberry vines aren't small shrubs. They send out long, inch-thick vines with vicious thorns that create dense hedgerows if left to themselves. I've seen them take over entire pastures. The vines loop and twine around anything they contact, branching out to choke the life out of neighboring shrubs or trees. They have the uncanny ability to root from the tip, creating great spiky loops.

From my research during my mission to prevent these monsters from taking over the yard, I found that the most effective way to kill them is to keep cutting them down, especially in the spring when they begin to grow. Herbicides help, but only at certain times. Too often, only the top is killed and the root springs to life again at the least provocation.

As I wage battle, armored in long sleeves and leather gloves and wielding loppers, I often think that they must be the perfect metaphor for something evil. They almost seem animate, the way the long, snaky tips whip around and bite into you. In spite of thick clothing and gloves, I always emerge from battle with painful scratches and punctures. They are very much like the great thorn hedge surrounding Sleeping Beauty's castle in the Disney movie, shutting out light and enslaving those within.

As I clip away at the thick vines, I think of how difficult it is to eradicate sin from our lives. Patiently I pull each long, spiny vine from the tangle, as if unsnarling thick, barbed yarn. What a battle to disentangle certain habits from our lives once they take hold. They resist our efforts to remove them, springing to ferocious life again the moment we relax.

These astonishing vines also remind me of the bitter root mentioned in Hebrews 12:15: ". . . looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled."[1] In my intimate acquaintance with blackberry vines, I've found that one single root will produce an enormous tangle of vines, branching off and engulfing all in their path. Fighting my way back to the source, I've found that one lop at the root will leave a gaping hole in the hedge as the main shoot and all its attendant branches are pulled free and piled on the burn pile.

Bitterness, or unforgiveness, left to take root and grow, will encircle and enslave us, blot out the light and kill everything good in our lives.

It will leave us slashed and bloody when we encounter it. It fights eradication, springing back to life at the least provocation. Bitterness--our refusal to forgive--will create a great, thorny hedgerow where once there was a garden.

We know, at least intellectually, that we must forgive. It's a basic tenant of our faith. The war in my backyard reminds me that some steps are necessary to eradicate this from my life. First, just as blackberries are much easier to deal with when they are short, tender sprouts rather than twenty-foot snarled vines, so we need to forgive quickly, to be alert for small offenses before they grow strong and hardy.

Second, we really need to get to the source of things. Often dealing with one unhealed hurt that we've allowed to grow unchecked will take out an entire web of trouble and grief.

Finally, from the battle in my yard, I've learned that patience and persistence really do pay off. I've reclaimed the narrow side yard, most of the fence line along the back, and liberated the small storage shed in the back corner of the yard. It can be done. As this passage in Hebrews admonishes us, "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us" (Hebrews 12:1).



[1] All Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.