My goal for the season is to plant a loquat tree but as most yard work projects go, what seemed like a simple project has actually involved weeks of hard work and it’s not over yet. Readers’ Digest version: One shady corner of our yard used to contain a large fish pond. Hopefully very soon, the now sunny corner will contain plum, pear, and loquat trees. Digging the pond seven years ago was rigorous work because we have shallow hard pan (aka bedrock) all over our lot. When we decided to plant fruit trees in place of the pond we knew we were committing to the laborious task of digging out still more hard pan. We’ve had this growing hole in our back yard for a few weeks. It’s a work in progress.
Digging out hard pan is an accurate allegory for my spiritual journey of late. For years, I nursed a particular sin. When the Lord put this blog topic in my mind I thought I’d just stick with this vague description of said sin, never naming it, just being real poetic – “a sin.” But let’s be honest, that ambiguity is not helping anybody, is it? I’m going to call if for what it is – it’s the sin of bitterness. It’s ugly, it’s contagious, and I hate it. I’ve clung to it, I’ve made excuses, I’ve convinced myself that my bitterness was justified. So the bitter root just grew deeper and harder for years until I had a toxic, bitter mass in my soul.
Let’s go back to digging out the pond hole. At one point I stabbed my shovel into what felt like a particularly large rock only to find after more digging that it was a cement slab we’d forgotten about. When we bought the house in ’05 there was an old, metal clothesline contraption on a small concrete foundation back in that corner of the yard. When we dug the pond, we somehow managed to bury the slab and forget about it all these years. Well, it reared it’s ugly head right where we want to put a fruit tree, so it had to come out.
Hang on to that visual for a moment and return with me to church this past Sunday when Pastor Brian preached on John 8:1-11, Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Her accusers wanted to stone her and Jesus said the one who had never sinned should throw the first stone. Then the accusers dropped their stones one by one and left her at Jesus’ feet where she found grace and hope from Him.
We were all given small rocks to bring to the altar on Sunday. The rocks were symbolizing guilt or condemnation, both things Jesus invited us to bring to Him and drop, with the promise of his grace and hope in return.
As I stood in my usual front row spot, stone in hand, I thought to the LORD, “This little stone is hardly appropriate, God. It’s not big enough. And I’m in the front row. The “altar” is only about 3 steps away. Placing this dainty little rock on the altar will require almost no effort, no sacrifice, no work on my part. That big cement rock at home seems like a much more appropriate representation of my sin. In fact, if I really wanted to do this right, I’d roll that big piece of concrete all the way to the altar in penance. That’s more like it, right?”
While we sang, “At the cross I bow my knee …” out of the corner of my eye, as my church family brought their stones to the altar I saw one sister in Christ kneel in prayer among the stones. Immediately, I knew that was where I wanted to be so I took those three steps and knelt with my puny stone in my out stretched hands.
“Well, here I am with my rock of guilt and condemnation. Here’s this sin of bitterness, LORD. I’m dropping it at Your feet. I’d rather bring you that cement ball! This stone just isn’t big enough.”
“It isn’t small enough,” He impressed upon me, in His still, small voice.
“No, it isn’t big enough!” I wrestled with Him.
“It isn’t even there!”
“Wait … what?”
“It isn’t even there anymore. The sin. It’s gone now.” He said, as I let my stone roll out of my hands. Forgiveness.
Is that the last I’ll ever see of bitterness? There are consequences to the years I spent nursing that habitual sin. The Holy Spirt has much to teach me as I face those consequences as spiritual training sessions to break the flesh-habit of bitterness that has ingrained itself into my daily life. But I’m forgiven of the sin of bitterness! When God looks at me, He doesn’t see my sin. He sees His Son! And by the grace of God, I remind Him of His Son, because His very Spirit is coursing through my veins too.
It’s hard work to dig up hard pan, but nothing will thrive in soil with hard pan beneath it. I’m sure you can connect the metaphorical dots and see how the fruit trees we’ll plant in this soft, well-drained soil are like the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a life exhumed of sin mass. Like I said, it’s a work in progress. I’am a work in progress. And so are you.
Do you have hard pan that needs digging up?