It was late morning and I was standing in the shade of a tin roof porch watching the precise movements of the hands of a skilled and seasoned farmer as he methodically worked, knife and branches in hand. First, he took the knife, dipped it in bleach water, and then proceeded to carefully and so precisely carve away a tiny portion of the outer layer of bark where the bud was growing on the little lemon sapling, with a trunk about the width of a pencil. He then took the little orange sapling (same size as the lemon one) and carefully and precisely removed the scion (or bud) in the exact same shape and size as the piece he had removed from the lemon sapling. Next, he brought the bud from the orange tree and placed it into the indentation he had carved into the lemon tree’s bark and joined them together. Because Thomas is very skilled at this and has been doing this day in and day out for many years, the nearly identically sized pieces fit together almost seamlessly, it was beautiful. After joining the two together, he tightly wrapped the union area, where he had placed the bud from the orange tree into the cut out bud area of the lemon tree in a thick plastic, so that no water would be able to enter into the area. Then he was done. He would come back 2 weeks later to see if he had been successful, to see if the two things he had brought together had indeed joined to become one.
It’s completely amazing to me, this process of grafting. It never ceases to amaze me how we as farmers can take a tiny little portion from one tree (the orange tree in this case) that is no bigger then 1 cm big and connect it to a much larger and completely different species of tree (the lemon tree in this case) and then later end up with a tree that has the roots of one tree and the trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit of another tree. So so cool!
But why do we even do it, you may ask? You might agree it sounds cool but may still be asking yourself why? Well, the “why” is because it allows us our trees to thrive, rather than just barely survive. It gives them a chance for a better and more fruitful life. For example, in Liberia, the rough lemon tree variety has excellent roots. They are well known for being strong, growing fast, and being resistant to many diseases. However, the fruit it produces is not really known for being plentiful and it’s not terribly desired in the market here. On the other hand, the Valencia orange tree, is highly coveted and sought after because it produces abundantly all year round a sweet and juicy variety of orange that many Liberians love. The troubles is though that the Valencia orange tree roots are very susceptible to diseases found here in Liberia and therefore the tree doesn’t really perform well here. Therefore, by combining the strong roots of the lemon tree with the productive branches of the orange tree through a process called grafting, we get a tree that is both strong and productive. Where the orange tree is weak, the lemon is strong. Without the roots of the lemon tree, the orange tree would not be able to produce an adequate supply of good fruit because it would rapidly succumb to the diseases in the soil around it. The orange tree needs the lemon tree to thrive.
As I was standing there listening to Thomas, I was instantly reminded of something that I had read the previous morning. Just a couple days prior, I had started reading the book Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Our Souls by Hannah Anderson. In the book , the author reminds us that at the root of our stress, anxiety, fatigue, and unrest is pride. In her definition she says that pride is when we “confuse our identity with God’s identity” and “it makes us to think of ourselves as larger than we really are.” Pride makes us forget that inherently we are created beings, made from the dust of the ground, wholly and utterly dependent on our Creator for the very breath that is in our lungs and giving us life (Genesis 2:7). It is when we fail to acknowledge our humble beginnings and our very existence as humans rather than as gods, that we suffer from unrest in our lives. She argues that by coming to Jesus, we are reminded of “who we are and who we are not.” Jesus is the vine (the root) and we are the branches. He said “remain in me and I in you, and you will bear much fruit” but He also warned us “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In her explanation of how to remove pride from our lives she gives the analogy of grafting, grafting ourselves onto Jesus for our roots.
These are the passages from her book that came to my mind as I watched and listened to Thomas as he did his grafting:
“Before we can be grafted onto Him, we must be stripped of our decomposing roots, our self-sufficiency and ego. We must give up the pretense that we can root ourselves.”
“We tend to think of pride as something we can conquer and humility as something that we can attain. We know that we are supposed to model Jesus’ own humility. We know that God ‘opposes the proud’ and so we commit to practicing humility, to intentionally ‘be humble.’ But humility is not a commodity. It is not something you can achieve. It is not something you earn or accomplish. Being humble is something you are or your aren’t…….If we are to find rest from our stress, if we are to have any hope of escaping our pride, we must be grafted onto the one who is humility Himself. We can no longer simply be content to imitate Him; we must become part of Him in order to reflect Him.”
“As long as we refuse to accept that our pride is the source of our unrest, we will continue to wither on the vine….Apart from Jesus, we will wither up and die.”
As human beings we have terribly weak roots that are susceptible to anything and everything that the world sends our way. We fall slave to the desires of the flesh, things “like sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (2 Corinthians 19-21).” All of these things are deeply rooted in pride, a misunderstanding of WHO and WHOSE we are. With roots of the flesh, we are not in any way resistant to sin, we will inevitably succumb more times than not despite our strongest attempts not to (Romans 7:14-25). As human beings without Jesus, our roots are in pride and we are weak like the orange trees, doomed to fall victim to the temptations all around us, wither up and die, producing either bitter fruit or no fruit at all.
God’s timing was and is absolutely perfect. I’ve fallen prey to the desires of my flesh. I’ve been stressed and anxious. I’ve been relying on myself too often and for too long. My roots, and my soul, are weak from the pride that I root my life in. Can anybody else relate?? This was a message I not only needed to read, but this was a message I needed to see. And God did just that. Just as He was teaching me about the pride that needed to be cut away and removed from my own life, He gave me a visual, that as an agriculturalist, I could 100% relate to and appreciate. He gently reminded me, just as He’s been doing time and time again this year, that I can do nothing without Him. I, much like the orange tree without the lemon tree roots, can do nothing apart from Him. Trying to imitate Him, His humility, or His love is not enough. I must become a part of Him, removing my weak fleshy roots and instead rooting myself in Him and His strength, if I want to have life at all, let alone thrive and bear fruit. As philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand reminds us, it only when we have an encounter with a personal God through Jesus, can we realize who we really are in comparison. Only then can we become weak, admitting to ourselves that we are not God and accepting our position as created rather than creator. Only then, can we know what humility (and therefore rest) truly means. Only then can we be made strong. Only with Jesus as our roots, everything else stripped away.
Galatians 5: 22-25. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 12:9-11. He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.