I just posted a new video on YouTube. Check it out.
I just posted a new video on YouTube. Check it out.
I have two fig trees in my back yard, so I’ve been learning all I can about them. Last year, the trees produced enough fruit to share with bugs, butterflies, and birds and still have way more than I could eat,
so I did what my grandmother did – made preserves.
Here is part of one peck I picked. No picture of preserves available yet.
Early in the summer, I could see the figs forming, but they were green. I started looking around the middle of June for ripe figs, maybe even earlier. I couldn’t remember when the season started. Day after day, the figs were still green.
It would never occur to me – or anyone I could imagine – to curse a tree for not bearing fruit out of season. Yet the Gospels preserve a story of Jesus doing just that (Cf. Matthew 21:18-22).
The season is about over now. The leaves are starting to fall. That’s what fig trees do. They go through the same seasons each year. Jesus knows this.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near” (Mark 13:28, ESV).
The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear (Mark 4:28).
He knows the cycles grain and trees go through. He knows about seed time and harvest. You can’t pick fresh figs any time of year. It happens in its own time and in its own season. So how can he get mad at a fig tree when it’s not the season for figs (Mark 11:13)? It’s idiotic to get mad at a tree for any reason, and especially for following the same seasons it does every year. If I got mad at my trees because it’s September and the leaves are starting to fall, you’d think I was insane. And you’d be right.
Maybe a little disappointment is understandable. Maybe he just had a hankering for figs at the moment, saw the leaves on the tree, and thought he’d check just in case a few ripened a little early. No figs. Oh well. He should keep moving before anyone sees he doesn’t know the season of figs in this territory like every other Jew who has ever been to Jerusalem for the three major festivals, right?
No, he curses the fig tree so that it withers and dies, dried up at the root (Mark 11:14, 20). It looks not only stupid but mean-spirited in narcissistic fashion. I don’t care what season it is. You’re a fig tree, and I want figs now.
This is another example of why you can’t read everything in the Bible literally. It is a story that is obviously meant to be read symbolically.
It’s a very common theme in the Old Testament. A gardener plants a tree (or vine) in a garden, cares for it, removes weeds, protects it from wild animals, basically does everything you can to keep the tree healthy so that it will bear fruit. When it’s time for the harvest, there is either no fruit or the fruit is rotten. This is a metaphor the Bible uses repeatedly to say the religious and national institutions have become corrupt, and God is about to pass judgment on them .
Mark connects this story with another in one of his “sandwiches.” This is when he starts one story, interrupts it with another narrative, and then finishes the first story. The story that interrupts this one is The Cleansing of the Temple (11:15-19), when Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers and calls out the corruption of the priests. Matthew presents these stories as separate events (21:12-13, 18-22), but Mark deliberately links them together to show the meaning of both these actions is one and the same.
Jesus sees a tree with no fruit and causes it to wither and die from the inside out, indicating God’s judgment on the Temple as an institution. Even though this is not the explanation Jesus gives (11:21-26), no Jew in Jerusalem could have missed the symbolism. Here are a few more examples.
The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10).
Beware of the false prophets…Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:15a, 18-19).
In these two passages, both Jesus and John the Baptist draw upon on Old Testament symbol of good figs representing the good people and bad figs representing the bad people (Jeremiah 24:1-8; Hosea 9:10).
Figs were often named with other crops, especially grapes, as a symbol of security and abundance, of the entire promised land being blessed and no one lacking anything. When the fig tree and the grapevine bore good fruit, all the people lived in shalom.
And He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war. Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken (Micah 4:3-4).
So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon (1 Kings 4:25).
For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)
So when fig tree and the vine bore no fruit, or the figs fell because the tree was shaken, troubled times were ahead.
…thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, I am sending upon them the sword, famine and pestilence, and I will make them like split-open figs that cannot be eaten due to rottenness” (Jeremiah 29:17).
The vine dries up and the fig tree fails; The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree, all the trees of the field dry up indeed, rejoicing dries up from the sons of men (Joel 1:12).
“I will surely snatch them away,” declares the LORD; “There will be no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, and the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away” (Jeremiah 8:13)
They will devour your harvest and your food; They will devour your sons and your daughters; They will devour your flocks and your herds; They will devour your vines and your fig trees; They will demolish with the sword your fortified cities in which you trust (Jeremiah 5:17).
All your fortifications are fig trees ripe with ripe fruit – When [the trees are] shaken, the [figs] fall into the eater’s mouth (Nahum 3:12).
The author of Revelation draws upon this as well.
And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind (Revelation 6:13, KJV).
So this is not about vindictiveness toward a tree. Just as he did when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers, Jesus is taking on the role of a prophet pronouncing God’s judgment on the religious institutions. And troubled times were coming. They are within a generation of a rebellion against Rome that would end with the complete destruction of the Temple. The rebels were not yet born, but the social and political forces were already at work, the same forces exposed in the trial of Jesus. And this fact was uncovered recently: The Emperor Vespasian used the gold, silver, and bronze from the Temple to pay for the construction of the Colosseum.
What was happening in the Temple, in the priesthood, and in the religious life of Judea that made Jesus so angry? Usually when the prophets pronounce God’s judgment in the most dire terms, they are condemning some kind of systemic injustice. Corruption has become so entrenched in the system that the only remedy left is to destroy the institution completely and hope that in the ashes the institutions can be recreated. Hopefully this time, if we start again from scratch, these institutions that are supposed to uphold justice and righteousness for everyone will get it right.
As I write this, I feel afraid. When some people read in the Bible about God’s harshest judgments, they feel justified in dehumanizing certain people. They think God hates all the same people they hate. I know because I used to be one of them. Still a recovering Fundamentalist. I don’t want to stir up those kind of misguided feelings, but in order to get at the meaning of this passage, we need to understand this kind of prophetic tradition Jesus was part of. I have a few ideas that I will discuss in a later post.
I started this series called “Roots of Depression” to track some of my experiences working in the yard and seeing some of the work as a metaphor for recovery, particularly removing weeds and other undesirable plants so that the good plants can recover and thrive. Gardening, it turns out, is a great metaphor for recovery, happy living, and the human condition in general. No wonder the Bible uses it so much.
In a more recent post, I spoke more directly about my experience of depression and recovery up to this point. It looks like those two series are going to intertwine like vines around an azalea bush but in a healthy way. See? Another metaphor! So as a writer in search of metaphors (really more interesting than it sounds), I want to try to connect the dots between gardening and recovery.
This was a tough root, so I pulled out the hand spade to remove it.
You’ll notice there’s a bulb at the end. I didn’t think vines had bulbs at their roots, but as I was removing it, I felt a resistance, as if the bulb were attached to something bigger. I used the spade to continue digging around it and encountered something harder than the soil, bulb-like but much bigger.
Soon the thing was revealed to me. It was much bigger than a bulb. In fact, it almost looked like an alien pod. I used a toothbrush to remove more dirt from the top and took a picture to show the scale.
If this is a bulb, I have never seen any other bulb like it. What is this thing? What is it doing in my flowerbed? Is it connected to the Azaleas or the vines that keep popping up underneath them like Kudzu? What will it do to the flowers if I remove it? So I’m leaving it for now. But if anyone can tell me what kind of bulb this is, please tell me in the comments below.
In relation to recovery, as you dig up and remove the weeds and their roots beneath, you may find things that you have no idea what they are or where they came from. That’s okay. If you’re not sure what it is or what will happen to the other plants in your garden if you remove it, leave it for now (Mat. 13:24-30). Learn more about it. See what tools are available for you, then put together a plan of action. The video below shows what’s involved when you start removing a root or vine. I looked at the pile of roots that were connected directly or indirectly to one vine and thought, “Wow! This is a mess. And it’s what recovery looks like.”
Now I want to list some of the tools you can use to remove the “weeds of depression” from the garden of your soul. Each of these requires more in-depth discussion than I can give right now. Like any list, this is about breadth, not depth. I want to name as many tools as I can for you, because like weeds in a garden, you will need many tools to remove them all. Real life gardening and yardwork has been good not only in living out metaphors for recovery. It gives me two forms of therapy at once: Exercise and sunlight.
Medication – If you have some form of Clinical Depression, your brain needs help producing “happy chemicals.” Medication is the most direct way to do that, but using it raises issues for some people, and particularly for people of faith. This will be the subject of a future post.
Counseling – It was very disorienting when I had a neuropsychologist tell me I tested high for depression in every possible way. If you’ve been diagnosed, you will most likely need professional counseling to help get re-oriented. If incorporating faith in your recovery is important to you, there are counselors who specialize in that.
Tell that voice in your head to shut up! – You know the one I’m talking about. We all have a voice in our head. If you’re depressed, that voice is the opposite of a motivational speaker. It tells you you’re a loser and gives you all the reasons why. It is quick-tempered and brings back old anger, even for things you and the other person have already made up for. What I finally realize is that voice is not real. It is the product of a chemically imbalanced brain. So drown it out with something positive and uplifting, like…Music.
Music – Does it have to be happy music? Not necessarily. Any music that makes you feel better will help.
Diet & Exercise – I don’t want to be like a certain actor who suggested that all you need to cure Depression (Post-Partum in that case) is diet and exercise. However, you should pay attention to it. Certain nutritional deficiencies can exacerbate depression. And you’ve heard of the “runner’s high”? That’s your brain producing happy chemicals in response to exercise.
Laughter – You’ve heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” It’s hard to be sad or angry while you’re laughing. So watching a funny movie is more than entertainment. It’s therapy.
Sunlight – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression specifically linked to lack of exposure to sunlight. Even if you don’t have SAD, a little more sunshine (with sunscreen) might help lift your mood.
Meditation – Many studies have shown meditation affects the brain in very healthy ways. It promotes calmness, reduces stress and anxiety, and increases your sense of well-being.
Prayer – This doesn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it has been absolutely crucial for coping with stress and with life in general. People of faith, however, tend to think prayer should be the only thing you need to cure depression. I’ve learned the hard way prayer is a great tool – but not the only tool – for recovery.
Favorite activities – This might be the best advice I ever got for coping with Depression: Find something you love to do, and do it (from Kevin Gates, rapper).
Forgiveness – You cannot recover if you are weighed down with anger, grudges, and resentment. If the wounds are fresh, it may take time. But make the choice to forgive, even if it doesn’t look possible right now.
Gratitude – The Law of Attraction says whatever you feel, the Universe will give you more of. If you walk around feeling angry and bitter all the time, the Universe will give you more to feel angry and bitter about. If you walk around feeling happy and grateful, the Universe will give you more to feel happy and grateful about. I don’t hold it as an absolute. I do think there is something to it, though. It’s not the full equation, but it is part of it. Maybe this is why Paul said to the Philippians,
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philip. 4:6-7).
Set the timer – This is a trick I read in an interview with Christopher Reeve. If you remember, he had a horse riding accident that left him quadriplegic. In public, though, it looked like he never let it get him down. One of his tricks was each morning, he would set the timer for twenty minutes. During that time he could cry, rant and rave about how unfair this is, how much it sucks, and when the timer went off, stop right there! Time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back to living.
Posture – Will changing your posture really change your mood? There is a mind-body connection. If you are hunched over, arms crossed, looking down, you look depressed and most likely feel depressed too. Straighten your back. Lift your head. Look forward. Open your arms. You’ll not only look confident but most likely feel more confident as well.
Recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – I’m not an alcoholic, but I have found the AA model of recovery very helpful in a number of ways. Its compassionate approach is conducive to healing. It teaches you to take responsibility without beating yourself up. You never say you are “recovered,” but you are recovering. It teaches you to recognize the triggers of addiction, so you can avoid them. It gives you tools to choose happiness over addiction. It invokes the help of a higher power, but what that means is left open to you. And it incorporates the power of a supportive community, which is my next tool.
Community – I believe we were made to live in loving community, at home, at work, in public life. The more places you have it, the better. I remember hearing of a news article with the title, “Loneliness: The Number One Disease in America.” I didn’t read the article, but the title alone is enough to get the point. Depression, especially, is exacerbated by loneliness.
The cure for loneliness is loving, supportive community. I experience that in my family – including oodles of extended family – and in my church. I have said before, even if I did not believe the tenets of the church, I would still go because of the relationships I have there. Whatever a loving community means to you, seek it out. It is the one place where I have always found this scripture to be true:
“Give, and it will be given unto you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).
Human touch – Studies have proven what I think most of us know in our hearts. Affectionate touching, from holding hands, to an arm around the shoulder, to snuggling, to hugging, to sex (when it is a genuine expression of love) reduces stress and anxiety and increases feelings of connection and well-being, all of which go a long way to alleviating depression.
But keep in mind, this is only true if the touching is desired by both people. Some people don’t like to be touched (so they say). And not all forms of touching are appropriate in all situations. If you want to incorporate touching to help your recovery, be appropriate and make sure the person on the receiving end welcomes it.
These are some of my tools for weeding out depression. If you don’t mind, tell me in the comments below if any of these have worked for you, or if you use any “tools” that aren’t listed here.
Guys. I’ll admit: I’m pretty “basic.” Granted, I don’t drink Starbucks, and Uggs are not my footwear of choice, but I definitely can relate to the stereotype, probably…
Source: Find Me in the Garden
In an earlier post, I talked about some of my gardening experience and how it relates to recovery from depression. I think some of the lessons can be applied to recovery in general. I thought I was done with that topic for a while, but I see some more possible application. Before I continue, I’d like to tell you a little background for how I ended up being the caretaker for this yard.
My grandparents passed away last year. I moved into their house, where they lived for over 30 years. The last three to four years of their lives, they were not in good health. They needed round the clock care. So of course, they weren’t able to take care of the yard the way they wanted to. Now that it’s my home, I feel a responsibility to take care of this land where I live now. And I hope this doesn’t sound new age-y or “Woo-oo-oo-oo-oo,” but I feel like by reclaiming their yard, I am in some way keeping their presence alive here.
Ok, so there’s a little bit of my sentimentality. Now here are my gardening/recovery tips.
Across the yard I don’t do much work to remove weeds. Just spread some type of Weed-and-Feed. Grass and weeds sometimes pop up in the sidewalk or driveway. A shot of Roundup is good enough for that. I’m not going to use it on the whole yard, which I think is way too destructive. Just a few weeds here or there away from the yard or other plants.
But when you get around the trees or into the flower beds, you don’t want any kind of chemicals there. They might kill or damage the flowers and trees you want. Weeds in those areas require a more hands on approach, which means you need the right tools: Gloves, hand spade, Garden Weasel(R) Cultivator and Weed Popper, hedge clippers, and pruner.
I wear gloves for all yard work because some of these weeds growing up have thorns. I need some protection to get a good grip and pull them out. Also, even though I’ve remembered the “Leaves of three, Leave it be” rule, sometimes I still get these welts like insect bites or poison ivy, so I’m wearing long sleeves to work anywhere in the yard.
Some weeds are too entrenched to just pull out. You can get the weed, but too much of the root is left behind. This Weed Popper comes in handy.
You place it so the little blades go into the ground on both sides of the weed, twist it around a full 360 degrees, and it pulls up the weed and root with it. It can even get ordinary dandelions pretty well. But I’ve seen these bigger weeds that are like dandelions crossbred with thistle. My friend called them dandelions on steroids.
For this, I need another standing weed remover but bigger. This Cultivator I’ve found works well on them. You can get the whole plant out, and it pulls up the root as well.
It’s made for cultivating ground, but it’s okay to repurpose your tools. It works similar to the Weed Popper. You get these spikes into the ground, twist, and pull up the weed.
When you pull up a big weed like this, it leaves a hole, and that brings me to my next lesson.
Since weeds grow faster than anything else, they will fill any emptiness if left unattended. Not to mention this Garden Weasel leaves a hole big enough for someone’s foot to slip in and twist and sprain and sue you. I try to leave as much of the original dirt as I can, not just after these big weeds but even the smaller ones, while leaving as little of the root behind as I can.
It will grow almost anything you plant if it has the right nutrient content and is in the right climate. You can’t blame the soil for your weeds, so it’s up to you to keep the soil cleared of undesirables and plant and tend the right seeds.
I want nice healthy green grass in the yard, but not in the flower beds. I’ve probably pulled up more grass than weeds in the flower beds. And the type of grass in my yard has a very extensive, intricate, intertwining root system, which is good for crowding out weeds in the yard, but you don’t want it getting mixed with the flower’s roots.
It requires some pulling, digging, and breaking up grassroots along with the weeds and their roots. It’s a lot more involved than I expected, but I think flowers and trees need a clearly delineated space.
The bushes around the front are mostly azaleas. And there’s a big rose bush on the east end of the yard. They had looked a little sickly the last few years. My grandparents were living here, and they weren’t in any shape to take care of the yard or flowers. As I examined the bushes, it was easy to see why. Some vines grew up and wrapped around the branches and twigs, choking the life out of them. And there were other plants, like budding acorns, growing right underneath, sometimes they to the point that they looked like something had been grafted in to the azaleas and roses. I cleared them out a few months ago and removed most of the dead branches. This spring, those bushes produced more flowers than they had in years.
Some bushes had grown so much, though, that they were crowding out their neighbors. For example, I had pink azaleas growing into and blending in with white azaleas. The pink was threatening to take over the white. So I decided it was time to trim the hedges. I pulled out the hedge clippers and pruners and went to work. It sounds a little backwards. I had done all this work to remove weeds and thorns so the azaleas and roses could thrive, and they thrived so much I’m actually cutting back on their growth. But gardening isn’t about letting the desirable plants grow indiscriminately. It’s about setting parameters so all the desirable plants are free to grow and thrive and contribute to the variety of the garden as a whole.
I worked in the flowerbeds most of the morning and had lunch. I knew I had made progress, but there was more to be done. My body was telling me not to go back out, but I didn’t listen. I was just going to work on this one patch of weeds, but I continued to work through most of the afternoon. Two days later, I’m still sore.
When my grandfather was still strong enough to work in the yard, we used to joke about how he was “addicted to weed,” because once he got started pulling weeds, he could be out all day if someone didn’t call him in. Let me tell you, that condition is hereditary. You may intend to work on one very specific patch of ground this time, but then there are a few more weeds here, a few more there. Now the flowerbed looks unbalanced. If you just take care of that patch, it will look better. Ok, another patch and I’ll almost be through. Just one more patch… You get the idea.
Like reclaiming a yard, garden, or flowerbed after years of neglect, recovery is not going to happen all in one day. If you’ve made progress and are encouraged to continue, but it was draining – physically or emotionally – or you have other responsibilities to attend to, you have a life, leave the yard for now. It will still be there tomorrow. Give yourself permission to say, “That’s enough for today,” and then for the rest of the day, take care of anything else that needs your attention.
I was hoping these two posts could present gardening as a metaphor for recovery. I may not have made those parallels clear all the way through, and I apologize for that. Maybe you will see some application to your life that I don’t. That’s the nature of parables: They leave room for you to interpret them out of your own experience.
In general, I see the work of recovery as three things: 1) planting the seeds of your best self and best life, 2) promoting the growth of those seeds in healthy ways, and 3) removing the weeds and roots that crowd out and even choke to death the good seeds in the garden of your life – metaphorically speaking, of course.
So like gardening, I have found the following true in recovery:
If you have any ideas of how gardening and recovery might be related, I would love for you to leave a comment below.
Grace and Peace to you.
If you want to read Part 3, click here.
I was working in the yard, which always seems to involve more than I think it will at the beginning. There have been these vines interweaving in the links of the chain link fence. I decided to un-interweave them. Of course it’s not enough to free the vines from the fence. I had to pull the vines up out of the ground so they couldn’t wrap around the fence again. As I did, some roots came up. I had a chance to pull the roots out so they wouldn’t grow back, so of course I took it.
Pulling up those roots revealed more roots, and then more roots and more roots. There were long roots, short roots, thin roots, thicker roots. The long thicker roots did not go down vertically but rather horizontally, so I could grab one in the middle and start pulling up, and it was like pulling up a cable wire. It would come out of the ground, and you could follow it to the right and the left. The ground above it gave way easily, and other roots snapped and broke as I disrupted the interweaving, intertwining network of roots beneath that foot of ground between the driveway and the chain link fence. I show some of the results in this video.
Why am I telling you this? I have an affiliate page now. One of the products I’m promoting is called Destroy Depression™. I chose it because I have struggled with depression my entire life, and this looked like a product that could help others with the same issue. It’s part of how I’m hoping to do well by doing good.
As I was working on these roots, I realized getting rid of these weeds and vines and the roots beneath them is similar to recovery. You start off with something easily visible: sadness, moodiness, a quick temper, or whatever. You pull on that, but those visible weeds are connected to roots underground. You go after those roots, and you find there is a whole lot more going on beneath the surface than you ever imagined. So as I pondered this, here’s what I noticed:
It took maybe twenty minutes to remove the vines, at most – Although some of them had deeper roots than I expected. I found few weeds and pulled them up in a few minutes. But I was probably three or four hours pulling up roots. Just when I thought I was close to finishing with them, I’d pull one little root and it would reveal a whole new network.
Whatever the roots of your depression, once you start digging them up, you will find they are far deeper and more extensive than you expected.
Small roots lead to big roots, and big roots are joined with a lot of small roots. Along the branches of the roots are these tiny tendrils that make it stick to the ground and other nearby roots. When you pull up one, it’s bound to break up some of the ties to another. So each one you remove makes it easier to remove another, especially with those big ones. You remove one of those long cable-like roots, and you have disrupted many smaller ones. With their connections snapped, they come out easier.
As you make progress in your recovery, you will find that improvement in one area spills over into other areas.
Every root I pulled made earthworms, tiny centipedes, termites, and scores of other tiny bugs scramble for safety. I imagine if somehow they knew this was coming and could communicate with me, they’d try to convince me or trick me into letting those roots stay where they are. They were just minding their own business, doing what worms and bugs do, and here I come uprooting their entire neighborhood – literally.
This is how depression takes on a life of its own. You may have noticed that in your recovery, you are often your own worst enemy. You want to be well. You want to be happy. You want to do something with your life that feels worthwhile. But something inside you keeps wanting to sabotage that. That’s the bugs and worms that have made their homes around the roots and don’t want you disturbing them. You will hear voices saying those roots are fine where they are. Don’t bother working on your recovery. You’ll only make things worse. It won’t do any good anyway. Tell those voices this is your recovery. The roots are coming up, and they can either adjust to it or move to someone else’s yard.
Some roots I could see I had removed completely. Some broke off before I could get it all out. There are still roots under there, most of them shorter and damaged, but they tend to grow back if they’re not removed completely.
If you’ve been working on recovery and made progress, remember not to get complacent. That yard may look clear now, and even beneath the surface you may find it clear of roots. But new weeds can always come in. Some of them may lie dormant, waiting for the right time to reappear. Some of those roots that broke off will grow back. Life won’t completely let you off the hook. But you have developed skills and strategies to stop them from taking over your yard. Be ready for them. Be ready to remove those same roots again, or maybe new roots that have found their way into that clearing you created. Recovery is a lifelong process, and your mental health and pursuit of happiness are worth it.
Grace and Peace to you.
If you would like to read Part 2, click here.