Bitter Roots

When my neighbour got too old to garden, the nettle moved in. It came in from the alley, under the fence. It spread through rhizomes — rootstalks that crept unseen beneath the soil. The rhizomes sprung tall and dense patches of weeds. My neighbour’s beautiful gardens, the ones that brought her so much joy, were ruined.

And then the nettle came for my yard.

I pulled it out, of course. My gloves were thick but not long enough, and the teeny-tiny, needle-like plant hairs pushed through my shirt sleeves and into my skin, releasing painful formic acid.

Pulling out the plants was one battle. Pulling out the rhizomes was a whole other battle. It’s near impossible to get rid of stinging nettle once it gets out of hand. The roots spread far.

Like bitterness.

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

Hebrews 12:15

The women’s group at church is doing a Bible study on forgiveness. As I sat there last night, sipping my coffee and wrestling with wounds in my heart, I couldn’t get that verse out of my head.

“Hurt people hurt people,” the leader said.

It’s true. Unforgiveness, left unchecked, grows into a bitter root that spreads. We don’t always see the rhizomes spread, but they’re there. And it’s painful work to dig them out.

In the back corner of my yard, nestled against the alley fence beside the neighbour’s yard, is an herb garden. It’s a slightly raised bed boxed in by wood. Despite its proximity to tall patches of stinging weeds, the nettle doesn’t grow there.

It can’t.

Stinging nettle rhizomes spread six inches below ground. The wood surrounding the herb garden is set deep enough that it acts as a protective barrier against the root spread.

Kind of like grace.

You see, when hurt people hurt us, we can stop the spread of bitterness. We can prevent their roots from defiling our hearts by responding with grace.

And so we do the work. Of dealing with our wounds. Of receiving forgiveness. Of extending love. Of surrounding our hearts with grace.

Because the grace of God runs deep.

Deeper than even the bitterest root.

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