on making space for the roots

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This Lent, I’m jotting down some of my thoughts in relation to food and simplicity over here. The problem with dipping my toes into an idea like simplicity is that gradually, the current draws me in and I realise just how far I’ve come upstream – how every corner of my life has become prey to the busy-and-crowded. The unsimple.

This became especially apparent this morning as I woke up, tired from a full week, and knowing that a full day lay ahead, and the next day, and the next…. Of course, this is due to choices I have made and when I am out doing this stuff I forget how I wanted to curl up under the duvet and say no to it all just a few hours earlier. It’s only every now and again – normally last thing at night or first thing – that I feel thinly spread.

There’s an anxiety that comes from knowing we are created to have feet firmly touching the earth and yet they’re flying over it as if racing towards some ever-deferred goal. That’s the anxiety I feel on mornings like this.

We looked at the mint plant in the soil box downstairs as I held my mug of tea this morning. I remember I was told this weekend that mint roots are powerful and far-reaching – they will overtake any bed of earth that they are in. And as Katie showed me how this mint plant on our balcony had been placed in a pot-within-the-box to prevent it from choking the other herbs, I remembered this.

But the pot-within-the-box, while it might be protecting the other herbs, is going to kill of the mint. ‘We need another pot altogether, to give the mint room to spread its roots’, we said.

The mint’s voluminous leaves bely the fact that roots are choking and dying beneath – and its only a matter of time before the effects begin to show.

*cue ordinary Thursday burning-bush moment*

It struck me as a courageous step – to take the mint out of the pot which is crushing its heartbeat – and replant it in a place where its roots can spread. To be unafraid of its eventual impact. In the same way, all of my ‘yes’es and cramming into every available corner of my life is – conversely – making my pot smaller and smaller. Yes, there may be plenty of leaves above soil to taste and even to gorge on, but the heartbeat in my roots is flailing.

I think what I need to pray for afresh is wisdom to know the times for yes and for no. And it will be hard – so many yes’es stem from a desire for validation, a yearning for satisfaction, a desire to create leaves which are beautiful. But of course in all the doing and striving,  there is no chance to stretch and draw from the only source which will truly satisfy. How easily we chase after the wind — because of course it is only ever – will only ever – be the health of the roots below that determine the beauty of the leaves above. Root work has to be prioritised.

Taking myself out of the narrow pot and into a wide space is daunting – because it will inevitably mean I need to reevaluate some of the things which I currently prioritise. And we know there’s nothing worse than letting go. Nothing worse than empty space.

But as Lacy Clark Ellman points out in her wonderful devotional book Pilgrim Principles:

‘As [the pilgrims] journeyed, learning more about themselves as well as the path on which they walked, they came to realise that they could do without the things which once seemed necessary… However, deciding what stays and what goes isn’t an easy task’.

It must be worth the effort and the sacrifice, for the heartbeat that develops as the roots spread will resound deep, echoing wide.

On days like today I know that to take a deep breath and say no sometimes, to choose to uproot and settle in the wide open space is the narrow way – in the Kingdom’s beautiful upside down way. And as we journey in imperfect ways, taking small steps of courage, I trust that the difference between what we need and what is no more than sand between our fingers will become clearer.

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