Fourteen years ago we had bender board installed to edge the grass and narrow pathway. The bender board shifted over the years and became a tripping hazard. Pulling spearmint and removing the bender board are great jobs to complete in tandem. As I replaced the bender board with edging bricks, I was reminded again how the protective line of the hard bender board seems to guide the spearmint roots in a communal direction. The board provides a hard surface beside which mint roots thrive. In just two feet of bender board I pulled out quite a pile of thick, vigorous roots.
And then my heart heard God whisper, "Teshuvah." "Yes," I thought, "teshuvah." The past few weeks I have been reading Bible passages around this act of turning, or repenting. A friend and I have wrestled with God's teachings of obedience to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, God's prophecies and promises to His people through Isaiah, and the teachings of Paul to the faithful believers in Rome and Ephesus.
"Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live." Deuteronomy 30:4-6
"See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws, then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Deuteronomy 30:15-20
"Give ear, and come to me, listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David." Isaiah 55:3
"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." Isaiah 55:6-7
"Instead of your shame, you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours." Isaiah 61:7
"For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved." Romans 10:10
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will--to the praise of His glorious grace which He has freely given in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us." Ephesians 1:3-8
Over the past few weeks of study, the desire to teshuvah or "return" compels and consumes me. And then I see it.
A tiny little root of disobedience in my heart that, when I pull on it, has branched into the unsuspecting places.
Like that hard bender board, my hard heart has protected my disobedience from the light, and it has grown thick and strong, joining other vigorous roots along the way. No matter how much I try to pull all of the roots out, the truth is that there will still be proverbial spearmint growing in the garden of my heart in the not-so-distant future. To look at and consider this truth feels overwhelming, unending, exhausting.
And yet, it is in the continuing decision to return to God, teshuvah, that I find LIFE. This annual practice of pulling spearmint, although I will do it again and again, year after year, allows the other plants space to grow and become. (There is hope for that little rhubarb shoot!) On this particular morning, the need to continually confess and turn to God did not leave me feeling hopeless like I failed once again. Instead, God used spearmint to teach me the freedom and beauty in returning to God, even though I will have to choose to return over and over again. Teshuvah is not easy. Teshuvah is not tidy. Teshuvah takes courage. Teshuvah humbles me. Teshuvah fills me to joy overflowing as I am reminded again of God's mercy toward me. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us."