I’ve kept an orchid in my office for two or three years now, the most profusely blooming orchid you could possibly imagine. In the last couple months or so, its spray of prolific yellow blossoms grew so heavy, I had to fasten the stem to the window frame with a hair clip, just to keep it upright. I’ve probably taken fifty photographs of this orchid over the years in morning, afternoon and evening light. I’ve never grown tired of looking at it.
I recently rearranged my office a bit. Inspired by Emily Freeman’s sunroom office makeover, I switched up my desk to give myself more workspace, Goodwilled a bunch of knickknacks and shifted the orchid from the top of the bookshelf to the corner of my desk. It provided a lovely symmetry with the lamp I set on the opposite corner. I felt very modern and minimalist with my symmetry and my clean space and my white-painted furniture.
However, not long after I rearranged my office, I noticed an influx of ants, mainly on my desk, but some on the floor beneath it too. I thought at first they were emanating from my laptop. I’m a snacker-writer, so I worried that a few too many crumbs had fallen between the keys and provided a pantry of sorts for the ants.
But yesterday morning I discovered the source of the ants was not my laptop, but my beautiful orchid. When I gingerly lifted the plant from its plastic pot, I saw immediately that the root ball was swarming with hundreds of ants. They’d made a nest amid the moist, gnarled roots. Beneath all its prolific beauty, down at the root, the plant was a mess – decaying, rotting and full of ant eggs and ant babies and ant parents.
Initially I tried to save the orchid, but as I stood over the kitchen sink with the plant in my hand and ants, precious eggs in their mouths, scattering helter skelter across the counter and down the cabinets, I quickly realized my efforts were futile. Finally, ants running up my arms and under my sleeves, I dashed out the front door and dumped the whole plant, pot and all, into the trash can at the curb.
Here’s the question I asked myself yesterday afternoon as I sat at my desk, its white surface disinfected and clean of ants, the orchid gone, a lone white peony bloom in its place:
How many times in my life have I been wooed by the picture-perfect exterior — the intoxicating, alluring blooms — only to discover that my desires were actually rotten at the core?
Readers, numbers, book contracts, sales, achievement, success. I’ve wanted it all – a whole bountiful spray of blooms, bending heavy under the weight of abundance. And what have I found in my single-minded pursuit? What have I discovered at the core of my ambition?
My desires are infested with darkness. It may have all looked fine on the outside, but at the root, deep down beneath the pretty, lay a tangled mess. I allowed my God-given dreams and ambitions to be tainted by idolatry, the quest to please only myself.
Sometimes we rediscover something about ourselves we thought we’d “taken care of” a good long time ago. Sometimes we realize we’ve fallen victim to the same-old root rot problem again — the problem we thought we’d fixed, the problem we thought we’d already overcome.
Yet here it is, the unseemly underneath, exposed again. Kind of makes you want to chuck the whole thing in the trash can at the curb, roots and blooms and pot and all, doesn’t it?
It’s hard work, this beginning again, turning back, replanting and resowing. I’m not alway sure I’m up for it, to be quite honest. I feel like I should be further along on this spiritual journey by now, less inclined to succumb to the same old temptations, if that makes sense.
Yet I still come back to this, despite my frustration and dismay:
No matter how rotten our roots, no matter how dark and messy and gnarled and infested our hearts, Jesus doesn’t chuck us into the trash can at the curb, roots and blooms and pot and all. He gives us grace, again and again and again.
He graciously shows us the error of our ways; he gives us a glimpse into what lies beneath. He shines his light into our dark places, not so that we will recoil in shame, but so we can see his love, even there.
Jesus reminds us to turn once again from the work of our own hands. He redirects our gaze from the pretty, enticing blooms to the roots underneath that need tending and nurturing. And he reminds us that he is always with us, even there, even as we begin again.