The onset of spring sends me straight to my garden. The warm sunshine on my back coupled with the cool, damp soil under my knees are food for my soul. Gardening isn’t all fun though; it’s hard work too. At my house, some dear soul years ago decided that ivy would be a much better ground cover than mulch- everywhere…around every tree and on every side of the house. The ivy vines carpet the ground in a thick tangle. They crawl up the stone around the base of the house. They entangle their tendrils behind the siding, climb the branches of the trees, choke out the delicate bushes, and creep out into the lawn in all directions.
This year, as I was engaged in my annual battle against the vines, I was reminded of this phrase, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” The entanglement of sin. This garden is the physical manifestation of the lives of many. My heart is heavy for the sorrows of my brothers and sisters, and God has been teaching me to pay attention to my sadness. What in particular pricks my spirit and hangs with me all day and all week? Am I grieving and lamenting as He has taught us? Or am I reveling in the sensational details of the misfortune of others? In this season, it is the choking brokenness of the most intimate relationships that grieves me. Even though I am blessed with wonderful parent/child and spouse relationships, all around me I see families who are suffocating, buried, controlled and entangled in the hurts of the past or the sins of the present.
It is devastating when the one-on-one care that is most fundamental to our understanding of God as Father and Christ as Bridegroom paints a picture of brokenness. The vines are entangling moms and dads, husbands and wives. The tendrils of selfishness reach into hearts and minds. The woody stalks grip firmly and create thick barriers that prevent the warmth of the Spirit from being experienced. This is my lament- this sin that so easily entangles our families. If your house is like mine, full of love and joy, look next door and you’ll likely find one in need of the great Gardener. There is hurt everywhere.
We as ministry families are not immune. In fact, we are as vulnerable to the encroachment of the enemy as any other family, and in some ways perhaps more vulnerable. If this is you, if you feel the entanglement of the vines reaching up around your ankles, two thoughts from scripture provide hope. First, our battle is not against one another. It is against the vines. When people cause us pain or harm, whether they are within our own families, in our congregations, or in our communities, it is most often the entanglement of sin causing the harm rather than the person. Second, Hebrews 11 and 12 remind us that we can draw strength from the true stories of the women and men who have gone before us, those who have remained faithful in the face of all of the trials of life. Their faith has brought courage, longsuffering, strength, patience, and love where selfishness, anger, fear, or disbelief could have taken root instead.
On this sunny spring day, I cut and prune, saw and pull, dig and rake to remove just a small fraction of the vines around my house. My muscles ache the next day, and I can hardly see where I’ve made a dent, but I know that at least for one more summer, I’ve done enough to keep the vines contained. It would take tremendous vigilance and strength to eradicate the vines altogether, the kind of strength that only comes from an all victorious Creator. Perhaps that is the kind of eradication you need today, and if that is the case, I pray you find it in Him.
For the three teenage boys and spouse who dwell inside my house, I will do battle on my knees often. I will pray Scripture over them, speak words of life to them, and, with the Spirit’s help, keep my own heart free vine-free, for them. For my neighbors and community who are entangled, dragged down, barely moving because of the weight of sin, I will pray for life in their families, and look for opportunities to help prune the vines. I pray that you’ll join me.
Erin Crisp is an alumnus and now employee of Indiana Wesleyan University. She and her husband, Eric, have three teenage sons and live in Marion, IN where Eric is a pastor at College Wesleyan Church. Originally an English teacher, Erin now works in adult, online education while pursuing a doctoral degree in education from Indiana University. The Crisps have been a ministry family for 13 years in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and now back in Indiana for a second time. They enjoy music, museums, camping, hiking, exploring new destinations, and reading.