Luke 17: 5-10
In 2006, my wife and I bought some land that we thought, “One day, we’ll build a house on it.” The lot had been in the path of the tornado that came through this area. Neighbors told us the lot previously looked like a park with lots of trees – cedars, oaks, maples. What remained on the lot was a huge pile of logs pushed together by bulldozers. Getting rid of the pile looked like an ominous task, but it had to be done if we ever wanted the landscape to be beautiful.
As I started burning the mountain of wood, one of the problems I encountered was all the soil covering the roots of the stumps. The roots were like fingers clinging to the dirt. The dirt was keeping air away from the wood so that it couldn’t burn like the logs that were exposed to the open air. We felt a sense of accomplishment as we saw the external wood burn away. But that internal, dirt-covered wood kept us wondering if we had enough faith to finish the task.
Unforgiveness is like a sycamine tree (sometimes called a mulberry tree). It has one of the deepest root structures in the Middle East which made it very difficult to kill. Not even hot temperatures affected it since it tapped into the water table under the earth. To pull it up and cast it into the sea would have been almost impossible. Cutting it to its base wouldn’t insure its demise because the roots would support new shoots.
Jesus was comparing the difficulty of forgiving someone who repeatedly hurts you to pulling up a mulberry tree and throwing it into the sea. Sometimes you can get rid of the surface stuff. You can outwardly say that you forgive them for committing an act against you. However, the hard part is getting rid of the feelings of hurt that the experience rooted deep into you.
The softer your heart, the deeper the roots seem to grow. Do you harden your heart so nothing can hurt you? No.
I’m reading a book called “The Wisdom of the Subconscious Mind.” In a nutshell, it says the conscious mind is like the tip of an iceberg that you can see. Or like the sycamine tree that can be seen above the ground. The subconscious mind is the bigger component that lies under the surface. Interestingly, the subconscious mind obeys what the conscious mind tells it.
What that means is that whatever the conscious mind believes (or wants to believe), the subconscious mind finds a way to make it happen. The conscious mind is the architect that comes up with the ideas. The subconscious mind is the construction engineer that finds a way to make it happen.
It explains why Republicans can’t see any good in President Obama or Nancy Pelosi and why Democrats can’t see any good in Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. The subconscious mind will always find ways to reinforce what the conscious mind wants to believe and ignore/minimize anything that contradicts what the conscious mind wants to believe. Fear is the opposite of faith. It’s the dirt that the subconscious mind clings to when it sees something that threatens what the conscious mind wants to believe. But let’s get away from politics.
There’s a metaphor here that applies to forgiveness.
The tree above the ground is the event or hurtful act. But the roots of the hurt are often underground, unseen. You may be focusing on the surface event as causing the hurt, but in actuality, there may be causes under the surface that affected your perception of the event. If you don’t deal with the underlying cause, you’ll never be able to let go of it. You can’t let it go unless you extract the root of the problem.
The disciples asked for more faith. They knew how hard it was to forgive someone who regularly hurt you.
Most parents can relate to this because teenagers tend to say things before they think – and it’s difficult to move from childhood into adulthood. It’s also a difficult thing learning to give freedom to children after they’ve acted like children.
On the other side of the coin, most parents don’t have a clue how they have negatively impacted the personal development of their children or misunderstood the needs of their children at various age levels. Forgiveness is often needed on both sides.
Whenever you take something “personally,” something is below the ground and not easy to uncover. Search the reasons why your feelings are clinging to the dirt and you’ll begin to give them the space to let them go.
Divorced couples can relate to unforgiveness at this level, too.
If you don’t think you can (or don’t want to) forgive someone for hurtful deeds they did to you, the subconscious will make sure it doesn’t happen. It will continue to bring up the hurtful feelings and find reasons to reinforce the unforgiving attitude. You can cut down the tree – or move away, trying never to see the person again – but if you don’t let go of the hurt feelings, before long new shoots of unforgiveness start to resurface.
Jesus said, “All you need is faith the size of a mustard seed.” You don’t need a mountain of faith to move a mountain of hurt. You only need a little faith—faith meaning “trust or confidence or belief.”
Confidence in what? That God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit will do it for you? No.
Just enough faith to say, “I can do this. I will do this. I want to do this – for my own health and well being.”
Just enough faith to repent – which means “to change your mind” or “change the way you think.”
To forgive is to let go of the dirt that the roots are wrapped around. You only need a tiny bit of confidence that it can be done. And once your conscious mind plants that thought and starts to repeat it—one day, you will begin to believe it.
It won’t be easy. But as your conscious mind gives the orders to release the hurt, the subconscious mind will begin to look for ways to make it happen. This may include the subconscious finding the root cause that you never understood. And the subconscious is incredibly resourceful and powerful.
Just a couple of words is all it takes to start letting go of the dirt. “I can do it. I know I can.”