Getting to the Root of Our Struggles

Keith KettenringBible Insights, Christian Living, The Uncommon Journey

A tree cannot exist without its roots. Usually gnarly and unsightly, the roots serve the tree in many ways. Here is what I found in summary:

The root system of a tree performs many vital functions. In winter, it is a store-house for essential food reserves needed by the tree to produce spring foliage. Roots absorb and transport water and minerals from the soil to the rest of the treeRoots also anchor the portion of the tree above ground.

There is a spiritual application to roots, noted by St. Paul in Colossians 2.6-7:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 

The root of faith in Christ is a positive and essential element to all of life. Not just a one-time faith in Christ but a continuous, tenacious faith that grows and deepens over time. We are to be…

like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever [we do] shall prosper. (Psalm 1.3)

In another sense, however, the wrong kind of root can be detrimental to our spiritual fruitfulness. This kind of root establishes itself when we lack God’s grace. Of course, God’s grace is never depleted. But our souls can become parched and dry due to a lack of appropriating or participating in His abundant grace. That’s the environment for a negative root to take hold. We see this connection in Hebrews 12.15 – See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. 


A few days ago I was preparing the soil in the prayer garden struggling with many roots being dug up by the tiller. More and more roots were exposed the deeper I dug.

What a spiritual lesson there, right? We think we’ve dealt with an issue or sin until we go deeper into our relationship with God. Often, things get worse, not better. The Light shines in the deeper darkness and we see the roots that have taken hold of our hearts. I’ve seen this in my own life and in the lives of others. We think as we love or know God better we’d begin to live with less sin. However, as the relationship deepens we discover how messed up we are and how much more we need God’s mercy and grace. (I’m convinced this may be one reason Christians hesitate to seek to know God better. They fear what will be exposed within.)

But, there was another lesson for me on this day. After tilling for quite some time, I noticed a small root sticking up from the ground and tried to remove it. It only slipped through my fingers; it wouldn’t budge. I grabbed the pick-ax and started opening up the ground around the little root to see what was going on. To my surprise, this little root was attached to a large root which took a large amount of effort to remove. See the videos for a look at what I was dealing with.

Removing the Root, part 1

Removing the Root, part 2 

(The hardest part was digging around the root so it could be cut out, not shown in the videos.)

There was a definite spiritual lesson for me in this. I may not be directly dealing with a “root of bitterness,” but I knew instantly that the biggest root in my life, one that puts out tiny shoots that often show above ground, is PRIDE. My pride sticks above ground as little shoots of:

  • Defensiveness
  • Impatience
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Lovelessness
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Selfishness
  • Self-loathing
  • Vanity
  • Self-righteousness
  • Judgementalism

But the mother of all these ills is the sickness of pride buried deep within which cannot be seen below all the dirt.

I was able to cut out the root in the garden with a powerful chain saw and handy pick-ax. But, it will take a lifetime of experiences, confession, healing, conviction, confrontation, and prayer to exterminate this stubborn root of pride.

Thankfully, there is an arsenal of “tools” available for my use: prayer, scripture, the Church, the grace and mercy of God, wise and loving spiritual guides, solitude, silence, the Holy Spirit, and now, the prayer garden. Thanks be to God!

Dr. K/Keith