The Miracle of the Chinese Bamboo Tree
“After the seed for this amazing tree is planted, you see nothing, absolutely nothing, for four years except for a tiny shoot coming out of a bulb. During those four years, all the growth is underground in a massive, fibrous root structure that spreads deep and wide in the earth. But then in the fifth year the Chinese bamboo tree grows up to eighty feet!
Many things in family life are like the Chinese bamboo tree. You work and you invest time and effort, and you do everything you can possibly do to nurture growth, and sometimes you don’t see anything for weeks, months, or even years. But if you’re patient and keep working and nurturing, that “fifth year” will come, and you will be astonished at the growth and change you see taking place.
Patience is faith in action. Patience is emotional diligence. It’s the willingness to [wait] so that others can grow. It reveals love. It gives birth to understanding. Even as we become aware of our suffering in love, we learn about ourselves and our own weaknesses and motives.”
*This reflection on the Chinese Bamboo Tree was written by Stephen R. Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families.
Family! – It’s tough to navigate through it sometimes, even in the best of families. They can keep you stuck, or they can push you too much; they can bring out the best in you, or the worst; you can be enmeshed, or completely cut off. Whatever it is, this group of people that you are born into (or marry into), affect so many aspects of your life. Even in therapy, it is difficult at times to provide individual counselling because the progress or change a person can make on their own, can be counteracted by the family dynamic.
Stories about family in the Bible are not so far off from our own. For Abraham and Sarah, the difficulty of not having a child led to hasty decisions and integrating Hagar into their anxiety. This led to tension and Hagar being thrown out, twice! and brought back twice. Think of Joseph who was sold by his brothers as a slave and taken to a foreign land. And what about Moses, who grew up in an adopted family and ran away partly because of his inner turmoil at seeing his own people being mistreated. Or Naomi, who lost her husband and both her sons within 10 years. Her grief and loss led to feelings of bitterness, and she felt as if God had turned His hand against her.
In our culture of autonomy and the importance of “me”, it can be hard to live in the “we”. In family, there is “we”. The waiting, and the patience, and the work required for family to thrive can be hard. But even in the convoluted nature of family there can be good growth underground if God is in the process. Despite what happened with Abraham, both his sons were together with him and buried him after his passing; and God blessed Hagar. Joseph became a high official in Egypt and he was good to his brothers after they were reunited. Moses led his people out of Egypt. And Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth stayed with her and they eventually formed a new family. It doesn’t always end so well. Even if it does end well, there is still heartache along the way, but good things can be created out of dust. The “fifth year” will come and the growth can be worth the wait.
Yesterday (December 22) was said to be the busiest shopping day of the year! As individuals and families got ready for the Christmas season, the biggest celebration at Christmas for us as Christians is the gift of Christ – who came to earth for our salvation. Indeed, Christ is the reason for the season…
For many people, another big part of the Christmas season is the giving and receiving of gifts. It certainly is enjoyable to have presents under the tree, and for families with little kids, there is joy in the unwrapping of gifts – the surprise element, the wonder and hope of what could be there. Then the celebration with family and friends, and it truly can be a magical time for many. For others, there may not be so much joy. There are many this season who are without – no food, no home, perhaps no family. In the midst of our celebration, let us remember to share the gift of love with those who need it. Extending the love of Christ can be done in so many ways – visiting someone with no family, inviting folks over for dinner, donating food to a shelter, sharing the Christ story, even a kind word or smile. “Share with the Lords people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom 12:13).
If you’ve heard about the 5 Love Languages, one of those love languages is Receiving Gifts. While there is certainly materialism in our culture, it is important to remember too that gifts are an act of giving or receiving love. It can seem shallow, but to another, that gift can be a visual reminder each time they see it, that you cared enough. There is thought and effort behind the gift; and the person receiving that gift feels remembered and cared for.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)
When the Israelites were captives in Egypt, God directed them to take a lamb as a sacrifice – this lamb’s blood would save the lives of their first-born sons. The Lord would pass over their homes if the blood of that lamb was used to mark the tops and sides of the doorframe of the house. After that night, God instructed the Israelites to celebrate the Passover Feast to remember how He delivered their houses (Exodus 12: 27).
When Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples before his death, He told them that He would die soon. He took the wine and the bread, gave them to his disciples and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me”, and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22: 19&20). Later that night, and into the next day He was carried away, tried, beaten, and crucified. He was without blemish, the Lamb that was slain.
The sacrificial blood of Jesus releases us from the captivity of sin. His resurrection gives us freedom over death. So that as believers being free from death, we have the hope of eternal life.
Imagine being out of a job despite all your attempts, living with your family despite wanting your independence, having language barriers, and then being told that you have cancer. How would you feel about what God is doing in your life?
Well, I met this very man a week ago, and he had two recurring questions for me: Did he do something bad in his life why God was punishing him? And, was he going to be able to go to heaven despite suffering? We had a long discussion, and throughout that discussion, I knew there were many things happening under the surface. But I knew he was questioning his faith, and it appeared he had lost hope.
So what is hope?
I wanted to focus for a bit on the Helmet of Salvation. Paul writes to those in Ephesus and those in Thessalonica reminding them of the helmet. In Thessalonians he says “and for an helmet, the hope of salvation”. We know the basis of that hope, and the truth of that hope. It is a hope that does not change when we change, or change because of our feelings. It is a hope centered in an unchangeable God who has saved us, and has a plan for our lives. Having the reality of faith in our heart is the foundation of our hope in Christ.
Hebrews 6: 19-20 says “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever.”
If you have ever been through depression, or a time of questioning God, you know it’s not just changing your mindset. It is deep, it is hard to change. Don’t just tell someone to have hope, BE there for them through the faith walk because that is important. Without faith, hope is fleeting. Remember your armor – it’s not automatic. Paul says “PUT ON the whole armor...” Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
Think of a garden or farm that has been completely overrun by weeds, and you want to make it into a healthy and beautiful garden. There is a lot of work involved. Ploughing is one way to prepare the soil, by uprooting any weeds that are left underground and bringing fresh nutrients to the surface. Ploughing is labouring work for the animals. But it’s interesting that this is also how Jesus likens the way that we carry our burdens. He says: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me”…
Typically the yoke is placed on the animal – the beam is over the shoulder and as the animal walks, they would pull along the soil to churn it up. Think about this process – in some places it may be softer soil, easier work; but then they may hit harder soil, or they may hit rocks. Think about their own physiological state, the more they go, the more they get tired, and they have to keep going so that the ground can be useful.
But what I love about the imagery that Jesus uses, with the yoke… It’s made for two!
Jesus knows that we could not save ourselves. He takes our yoke, our sins, and bears them as His own. We do not walk alone when we are yoked with Jesus. He says: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me”. You now have the freedom to act in your true nature, to be a covenant partner, and learn from Jesus… He is “gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.