Do you know the story of the strangler fig? During our recent trip to Costa Rica we spent time in the rain forest region where they litter the landscape. These massive ficus trees look intriguing, even beautiful in a mysterious way, but I was fascinated to learn about their insidious development.
The Strangler Fig
Strangler figs are common in dark areas where there’s competition for sunlight. A small sticky seed is dropped by a bird or a bat and becomes lodged in a crevice of an unsuspecting host tree. Roots shoot down surrounding the tree and branches grow above. Contrary to what its name implies, it doesn’t strangle its host. Instead it thrives by growing faster and consuming the hosts resources. Eventually the strangler fig’s large canopy will envelop the older tree blocking it completely from sunlight. In time, the host dies, literally rotting from within, leaving a hollow shell.
This fascinating tree reminds me of this passage in Hebrews.
Hebrews 12: 14,15 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
In a sense, the strangler fig is a picture of what this scripture warns against.
Offending/ Being Offended
Have you noticed that in this current climate, we seem to be offending and being offended more than ever?
Just this week while checking out at Trader Joes, I stepped to the end of the counter to add a few items to a partially filled bag in my cart. “Be sure to stay behind the plexiglas the checker scolded with tone.” Yes, the 20” plexiglas that includes a cut out for the credit card machine and separates a masked shopper from a masked checker. I complied. (As if those virus particles are as obedient) But without saying a word, I communicated my offense, no longer chatty, just silent and stewing and impatient to leave the store.
It Wasn’t Just That…
An unfair criticism weighed on my mind and my extensive search for volunteer possibilities for Ian looked bleak, adding fuel to my frustration . (NM Summer camps don’t even want volunteers due to covid restrictions)
Looking back, I see how the small sticky seeds had taken a cumulative toll. More sensitive, it was as if I had a gaping wound and everyone kept bumping into it.
How it all Begins
When expectations are unmet, whether accidental or intentional, we’re frustrated. Just like the sticky seed, at first it seems small and harmless. But as we stew, it becomes lodged. Resentments accumulate. We may chalk it up to just a bad day… but have you noticed how a bad day typically gets worse. We plod through our bad day “on edge” and our sharp tongue invites more frustration. Of course given our bad attitude, no one can see the Lord. Without intention, our heart becomes fertile ground for the bitter root to thrive.
And it doesn’t stop there. When entangled we become emboldened to retaliate or take it out on another unsuspecting soul, spreading the poison. Sometimes we choose to coddle it for a time. We assume it’s not hurting anyone and we can keep it contained. Ha! It doesn’t work that way. As the scripture suggests, a bitter root grows up and causes trouble and defiles many. In other words, it goes viral.
In the end, bitterness doesn’t require much to flourish, just a heart willing to host it and an unwillingness to forgive.
So how do we prevent the sticky seed from growing a bitter root? How do we heed the command to live at peace with everyone? The key is found in verse 15. Grace. Grace is accessible 24×7. It’s our teflon coating, our armor and protection. Grace empowers us to forgive which repels a sticky seed.
I’ve been convicted. Have you? But…I agree…
This. Is. Hard.
I believe it’s possible to choose a lifestyle of forgiveness. This means, I relinquish the right to be treated fairly and I release people from my judgement. Ouch. I act swiftly when the seed drops — I don’t nurse it or rehearse it. Empowered by the grace of God, I disperse it.
The enemy’s favorite weapon these days is the bait of offense. He wants there to be division in churches, in homes, friend from friend. He wants to rip us apart and he does it effectively by dropping those small yet insidious seeds. Imagine his delight to see a forest of mature strangler figs knowing of their rotted hosts.
Dear Gracious God, Thank you for your free and accessible grace. Forgive me for expecting it, while being stingy to extend it to others. Thank you for the conviction of your word. But Father, be gracious with me as I attempt to live in peace and be Holy. It is hard! When sticky seeds drop, help me to act swiftly. With a tough hide and a tender heart, help me to choose a lifestyle of forgiveness so that You Lord, are never hidden from view. Amen.