In Between a Rock and a Soft Place
The United States Capitol Building has a long history of construction. Having been built, burnt, rebuilt, and expanded over the span of 60 some years, no one is entirely certain when to say it was officially finished. The building’s famous rotunda and center building were designed and constructed by Charles Bulfinch in 1819. This man was a diehard devotee of the late General George Washington, as is made clear by the portraits of him that adorn the building. His whole-hearted devotion to the man gave way to a massive controversy revolving around the remains of the deceased.
When Burford originally designed and constructed the center rotunda, not only did he commission for a $40,000 dollar fresco depicting George Washington as a god, but he also constructed a tomb for him two floors beneath it, with the intention of installing a glass floor so that people could look down on his body. The only issue with that plan (other than the fact that it would have been incredibly creepy) is that George Washington had specifically stated in his will that he was to be buried at Mount Vernon, and the family was not about to disobey his wishes. So here we are, with a building entirely designed around the body of George Washington, but no George Washington to put in it. They had a tomb with no one to bury in it.
Throughout the years they offered it to several presidents to use as their own, but everyone refused, preferring to be buried in hometowns and surrounded by loved ones. (Also, I’d imagine, not wanting to become museum pieces.) Finally, the decision was made to place Lincoln’s casket in the tomb just as a placeholder. So today, beneath the floor of the Capitol’s rotunda, lies an empty tomb with any empty casket, all because one man got too far ahead of himself and forgot to ask if he could actually have the body.
He had a dream and a vision but lacked that actual roots, or substance, to carry it to fruition. That is what we see in this next portion of the Parable of the Sower. Someone who accepts the seed, but lacks the ‘roots’ to hold firm to the faith. Once again, I can directly relate to this in my life, having been caught up in the thorns and thistles that surrounded me, even after my heart had been softened by the Lord, I still lacked the roots to stand firm when temptation came. After coming to Christ, I was brought into a situation where I faced the scorching sun—the trials of life—through the death of a close mentor of mine. And while, by that point, I had already let the weeds in, it was his death that finally lead me to wither. I had received the message with joy and had sprung up quickly in Christ, but my lack of depth and the infancy of my faith was brought to light by that situation. Yet here today, by the grace of God, I stand.
“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”
Matthew 13:5-7 NIV
The key to understanding this passage and how it relates to sharing our faith is a lack of deep roots. Deep roots are necessary to draw on water in times of drought and extreme heat. They are also needed so that a plant is not uprooted in strong winds and storms. Deep roots come from two places: association and adversity.
In order for a root system, no matter how deep, to have any purpose at all, it must have a place to draw water from. That is where association comes in. Christians desperately need community to flourish. We need to feed and be fed, to give and to receive, to love and to be loved. That is why are so often reminded to “not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit,” (Hebrews 10:25 BSB) because it is from community that our roots draw our water. In order to have deep roots, we need to have connections. The quantity of the connections does not really matter that much. You could have five Christians friends; you could have five hundred Christian friends. It is the quality, or the depth, of the relationships that really define their worth
There is a phenomenon among trees that is actually quite common but rarely given any thought. It is a process known as inosculation. It occurs when two separate trees, growing in close proximity to one another, make contact and, over time, fuse together to form one tree. It only begins to occur once the cambium of the two trees come in contact with one another. The only issue with that is the cambium is on the inside of the tree bark. The trees have to literally “rub off on each another” before the process can begin. Trees that undergo inosculation have a much greater chance of survival, as their root system is doubled in size and can reach far more water than if the tree was on its own. They also benefit from greater structural integrity to better weather the storms.
We, as a church and body of believers, need to inosculate. To come together to such an extent that we are one, just as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:21). It is only then that we will be able to draw water from one another and stand strong when the storm comes.
The other way that deep roots are developed is, strangely enough, through drought. In times when water is lacking, trees have been noted to cease to grow up, instead, they grow down. They focus all of their energy on growing roots that stretch down and out to try to find more water. Likewise, when we find ourselves in a spiritual drought, struggling to find the nourishment we desperately need, we need to broaden our horizons to look for other places for water. This is what gives birth to deep roots, and now, with them in place, we can weather bigger storms. So, in a sense, perseverance gives birth to perseverance.
That being said, we need to remember that we can never remove the stones that block our roots from growing deep. Once again, we need to rely wholly on the Gardener to remove the rocks that have been deeply interwoven with our soil. It takes great love and patience to go about a task like that, but we have a God who is the very outpouring of love and patience. We need not worry. He will do it. We just simply need to pray and trust that He will remove them from our lives and the lives of those we are trying to reach.
Those are the keys to overcoming rocky soil: association, adversity, and far above all else, prayer. Do not be discouraged by the size of the problem; only focus on our God who is so much bigger than all of that and be comforted.
With the confidence and perseverance that can come only through Christ,
“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:3-5 NIV