Apparently, in addition to all his better-known gifts, Thomas Jefferson was a gardener. His experimentation with horticulture added over five hundred new fruits and vegetables to the world, but he was never able to successfully cultivate a vineyard at Monticello, his beloved Virginia home. Here’s why: the French varieties of grapes he coveted had no resistance to the tiny root louse which feeds on the roots of grapevines and thrives in North American soil. His dream of a beautiful vineyard was being, quite literally, cut off at the roots.
Hannah Anderson shares Jefferson’s gardening woes as an illustration of the effect of pride on the human heart. An infestation of pride not only cuts peace and joy off at the roots, but also heightens stress levels and causes the oblivious host to strive for levels of self-sufficiency and competence that we were never meant to shoulder. In Humble Roots, Hannah shares a number of definitions of humility that give structure to her words and that also reveal the important role that a humble heart plays in the formation of a soul that is both grounded and nourished.
“Humility is accurately understanding ourselves and our place in the world. Humility is knowing where we came from and who our people are. Humility is understanding that without God we are nothing.” (56)
In directing our gaze to the lilies of the field, Jesus invites His followers to a humble dependence on His provision. With 75% of Americans reporting that they experience some level of stress on any given month (21) — and all its attending health issues — a humble acknowledgement of our need can be life-saving.
“Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated. Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result.” (103)
This clear view of the self reveals that most of our struggles are rooted in a pride that exalts and prioritizes our own feelings over all else. It takes a certain amount of courage to agree with John the Beloved Disciple’s assessment that God is “greater than our hearts.” The humble admission that He “knows all things” — and by extension that I do not know all things — is a tremendous first step in admitting the limits of human reason and in acknowledging the truth that all is gift.
“Humility remembers both your human limitation and God’s transcendent power.” (157)
Proverbs 16:9 yields truth that eases my control issues with the knowledge of the choreography that exists between my decision-making and God’s sovereignty, for indeed, plan as I may, it is God who directs my steps. How glorious that God invites me to dream, while also reassuring me that I need never lose sight of His ultimate control as the One who is writing the patterns for every figure of the dance.
“Humility teaches us to find rest in confession. Rest from the need to hide, the need to be perfect. We rest by saying, both to God and others, ‘I am not enough. I need help.’” (186)
Life here outside The Garden means that no one is immune from brokenness and fallibility, but humility alleviates some of the sting, for when we freely confess our brokenness to God and others, we are free to grieve it, to stop hiding it, and to take grace.
There is irony in Hannah Anderson’s choice of a title for her book, for it quickly becomes clear that it is pride that lives in the roots of humanity. Thus, it becomes the lifelong journey of the Christian life to uproot all that is harmful (or, depending on one’s perspective, to cooperate with God in His uprooting) and to transplant (by grace) all that redeems. In the meantime, having read and allowed the truth to land on plowed soil, I’m enjoying the message that “God raised Jesus up because this is how God responds to humility.” (199)
And on this February day in which my refrigerator is playing host to two tomatoes that can only be described as “plastic,” my gardener-soul is nourished by this lovely sentence:
“A sun-ripened tomato is one of God’s clearest acts of common grace.” (118)
In Humble Roots, Hannah Anderson has drawn a clear connection between the cultivation of those sun-ripened beauties and the pursuit of soul-nourishment, peace, rest, and an end to the ceaseless striving. Using metaphors as earthy as our clay-based bodies, she cooperates with the Word of God to reveal that the quality of life we most desire will not come to us through power or reason or productivity or any number of quick fixes, but, rather, through roots that are sunk deeply into a theology of need and answering grace — and a humble acceptance of a life that is lived close to the ground.
This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”