Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
JER 17: 5-10
PS 1: 1-2, 3, 4 AND 6
SEE LK 8:15
LK 16: 19-31
Jeremiah and the psalmist might have been describing a Dutch landscape painting with their idyllic imagery of a tree planted by a stream. But the word rendered in our English translations as “planted” comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to transplant.” This more dynamic image is apt for the Lenten season’s emphasis on change and renewal in our lives.
Transplanting a tree can be daunting. At the new site, you have to dig a deep hole, at least two times the diameter of the rootball. The more mature the tree, the larger the rootball, and the more challenging it is to wrestle the tree into place. In our spiritual lives, we may know changes are needed but feel like our roots are too well established. Even if our situation isn’t the best, it seems like too much effort to do the prep work, let alone uproot ourselves and get to a new place.
Newly transplanted trees typically experience some degree of transplant shock. Damaged roots are less able to absorb water and nutrients, plus the tree has to adapt to new environmental conditions. As a result, there may be stunting or inconsistency in new growth for a time. Similarly, a successful and long-lasting change of heart is easier if we prepare for the shock of change—say, letting go of unhealthy relationships or long-accustomed habits. People may challenge us on the changes we make, and perhaps even reject the “new me.”
With care and time, trees overcome transplant shock, but the work continues. Even under the best conditions the establishment phase can take one growing season per inch of trunk diameter. Sometimes the establishment phase may take many years or, in the worst case, the tree may hang on for a few years and then gradually decline. The lesson for us? We must commit to regular care and feeding of our spiritual lives to bring them to full fruition.
Fortunately, God provides the resources, care, and attention we need when we seek to make positive changes in our lives. Stymied in the parched land of spiritual drought, we may be surprised to discover that God has brought us right to the edge of the stream and even dug the hole. But we must choose to extend our roots into the rich topsoil. True, additional pruning may be required—trees need help assuming their optimal habit—but God does it with with a patient, loving hand and an eye toward helping us become our truest selves.
This Lent, let’s look at where we’re planted. What living streams already sustain us? Perhaps a supportive spouse or partner, a wise friend, a vibrant worshipping community, a favorite spot outdoors, or artworks that speak to transcendent truths. And what sort of transplanting is needed to bring us closer to the living water and make us healthier and holier? Let’s ask God, the master gardener, to assist us.
David Brinker is the Assistant Director of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA).