Archive for A Recluse Generation

Step into the Backyard

by Aaron Ivey

Most things are not what they seem. Very seldom should we take something at face value; our eyes cannot offer a complete picture of everything that may be going on around us.

I just finished a complete makeover of my backyard. Jamie and I are not much for gardening and landscaping; we’ve never been very good at keeping plants alive. Since we’ve lived in this house, our backyard has been uninhabitable. A tropical jungle had taken over from the back door to the fence. Plants that were once mere shrubbery had become giant trees. It was a little humorous to see the absolute chaos in my yard.

While overhauling the yard, I ran across a tree I needed to remove. The trunk was about four inches in diameter, something a chainsaw could easily handle. I borrowed a chainsaw from a friend and quickly cut that joker down. I didn’t think much of it, until I decided to go ahead and dig the roots of the tree out to completely remove it from the yard. With shovel in hand, I started digging a circle around the fresh-cut stump. As I dug deeper, the trunk went from four inches in diameter to six inches. Six inches turned to eight, then ten. Finally two feet under the ground this trunk had a diameter of about twelve inches. I was shocked at how misleading this little tree was! I kept digging around the trunk, each level of dirt shed light on a bigger and more complex tree underneath. Now three feet into the soil, I could see huge roots jetting from the trunk to various corners of my yard. These roots were probably twice as big as the original trunk I saw at the top of the soil.

The menial task of removing a small tree had quickly turned into a long process of sweat, pain, and blisters. I probably spent two hours digging around each root, and then chopped them with an axe. Every time I thought I was making headway, another root would shake its cruel fist at me. I could not believe how deeply rooted this little tree had become. I had always heard that the root systems of trees were complex, but this little guy deeply impressed me. If I were judging him on how well he had initially fooled me, I would give him a 10 and a gold star.

Two hours later, the last root was removed and I could finally pull the massive trunk out of the ground. I stood in my yard and gazed at the piles of chopped roots that were now flung across my yard. Above the topsoil, this little tree seemed so easy and maintainable. But underneath all the grass and dirt, a complex system of trunk and roots were keeping this little tree planted in the yard.

I sometimes wonder if every person on this green planet is not the same as a little tree. At first glance, one sees something that is tame, maintainable, safe, happy, content, and pleasant. But underneath the soil lies a complex system of problems, sorrow, broken relationships, questions, doubts, fears, and insecurities to name a few. Sadly our recluse generation keeps us in our houses and above the soil. It is difficult to dig deeply into people’s lives because our faith tends be lived in solitude. How easy is it to completely ignore the people around us? Consider the neighbors, acquaintances, and fellow students that are within reaching distance from you. How many of those have you personally dug into?

We don’t dig into people’s lives for a few reasons. 1) It’s usually a messy process. It may require getting our hands dirty; it takes more attention and intent than just being a casual acquaintance. Living in community with people around us is a dirty process, because people are broken and hurting. 2) We’re convinced the facade is real. We look at people and make assumptions about what we see above the soil. We see outward signs of success, beauty, or happiness and think, “they’ve got it all together!” No one has it all together. Every person on the planet is in need of people in their lives stirring and prodding the soil. 3) We don’t see the trees in our backyard. Some of us are so afraid of the jungle in our backyard; we just close the door and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or we’re just oblivious and have never visited our own backyards to notice there are trees.

Yesterday the exterminator came to my house to get rid of spiders. I was pretty much in my own zone yesterday morning with all that was going on with me, the kids, the band, etc. I had a few things I was trying to get done, and I just needed him to spray the bugs and get on his way. He had asked a few questions about what band I’m in, etc. I just wanted him to do his job. Embarrassingly I was short, to the point, and borderline rude to him. In an instant God reminded me of the tree and the root I had previously discovered, and conviction took over. This day a tree managed to make its way into my home, and instead of taking an opportunity to show compassion and interest to a complete stranger, I chose reclusion. I made my way back into a room he was in, and he started another conversation about music and bands. I discovered he was my age, and as we talked more he mentioned his boredom with life, his discontent with where he was, and how he just wanted to get out his rut and start living. Slowly a few centimeters of topsoil were removed, and the real Jesse was coming to the surface. I was able to encourage him to keep going, to follow his dreams, and to remind him that he did have purpose on this planet.

In the short ten minutes we talked in my kitchen, I was reminded how imperative it is that we open our eyes and take notice of the very people that are within arms reach. Although I may not ever see Jesse again, I hope I did my part in showing the love and compassion of Christ. Ignoring and neglect would have robbed Jesse of the conversation, and me the opportunity to see a real-life tree in my kitchen.

There are trees all around. Let’s get our hands dirty and start gently removing topsoil.