Recently I rearranged my office. I swapped the curbside table I’d been using for a legitimate desk to give myself more workspace, Goodwilled a bunch of knickknacks, and shifted the orchid from the top of the bookshelf, where it had sat for the last two years, to the corner of my desk.
Not long after, 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 decaying mess.
Initially I tried to save the orchid, but as I stood over the kitchen sink with the plant in my hand, the ants scattering helter-skelter across the counter and down the cabinets, I quickly realized my efforts were futile. Finally, ants running up my arms, 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:
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, subscribers, social media shares, book contracts, sales, achievement, success. I’ve wanted it all – a whole bountiful spray of blooms, bending heavy under the weight of abundance. But what I’ve discovered is that my desires are often a tangled mess of decay deep down at the root.
Sometimes we rediscover something about ourselves we thought we’d “taken care of” a good long time ago. Sometimes we realize we’ve fallen prey to the same-old root rot problem again — the problem we thought we’d fixed, the problem we thought we’d already overcome.
And then up it rears, the unseemly underneath exposed again, making you want to chuck the whole thing in the trash can at the curb, roots and blooms and pot and all.
It’s hard work, this turning back, this beginning again. 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.
Yet despite my frustration and dismay, and no matter how rotten the roots beneath the blooms, I remember that God doesn’t chuck me into the trash can at the curb, roots and blooms and pot and all. I remember that God gives me grace, again and again and again. He graciously shows me the error of my ways. He shines his light into my dark places, not so that I will recoil in shame, but so I can see his love, even there.
God patiently redirects my gaze from the pretty, enticing blooms to the roots underneath that need tending and nurturing. And he reminds me that he is always with me, even there, even as I begin again.
I have a new orchid on my desk. I bought it at Trader Joe’s – they sell them cheap there. It’s not as pretty as the one I had before. This one is a bit spindly, with far fewer blooms. But its roots are clean of ants and decay, wrapped tightly together, snug in the bottom of the pot.
I’ll tend this plant more diligently than I did its predecessor. Every now and then I’ll lift it gently by its stem from the pot to look underneath, remembering that the orchid’s health depends not just on the pretty blooms above, but also on the condition of its roots below.
A post from the archives (2015), but still (sigh) very much relevant.