How to Get Your Roots to Reach Deep

The silent, unseen essentials of what makes life really matter.

After my grandfather died years ago, I planted an oak tree in his memory in our front yard. The skinny stem stood only 6 feet tall (like Granddad did). I planted it on a windy day.

How to Get Your Roots to Reach Deep

(By Almonroth. Own work. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A few hours later, my neighbor hollered: “Hey, Wayne, your tree was really leaning over in the wind!” I grabbed the trunk and slightly bent the tree over. The whole base moved, because it had no root system yet. So I staked it down.

Two years later when I bent the tree, the base didn’t move. But you know what? The tree looked the same. No visible change. Its goal for its first two years was its roots, not its limbs and leaves.

That little sprig offers a contrast (and a lesson) to you and me.

I Think that I Shall Never See . . .

Most of us feel a daily tension giving priority where it belongs. It isn’t easy. Our culture pressures us and preaches its priorities from the magazine racks: Body Builder, Fashion, Vanity Fair, and Vogue.

We’ll never see slick publications called, Popular Morality, Self-Control Digest, The Perseverance Report, or Love Illustrated (though that last one might sell a few).

In the world we live in, it’s all about the leaves.

The roots are assumed.

Its all about the roots.

(Photo by Aaron Escobar. CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This type of marketing baits our weaker natures. To keep up appearances, we’ll water our leaves and lengthen our limbs . . . but neglect our roots. We’ll give priority to the visible and impressive and assume the unseen will care for itself.

But our spiritual lives never take care of themselves.

Nobody ever accidentally grows spiritually. It is a daily decision. (Tweet that.)

The Danger, My Friend, is Blowing in the Wind

The problem, of course, reveals itself when the wind blows. With shallow roots in our lives, the leaves and limbs upend the whole tree—and it dies.

Fallen tree with no roots

(Photo: Derek Harper. CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Jesus spoke of this in His parable of the soils:

The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. —Matthew 13:20–21

I’ll never forget seeing a friend who spent two years in a federal prison. At one time, he had a million bucks in the bank—that’s a lot of green leaves! When I visited him, he told me money never made him happy.

He had focused on the leaves, not the roots. The wallpaper, not the foundation. The starched shirt, not the heart beneath it.

How to Get Your Roots to Reach Deep

Most likely, we have all the leaves and limbs in place. Our externals appear impressive—a decent income, comfortable cars, a good home, a fine-trimmed lawn, the latest clothes and techie gadgets. But what about the silent and unseen parts of our lives?

What about the roots? Are they in place too? I’m thinking of:

These remain the silent, unseen, and yet, essential roots of what makes life really matter. They keep our tree standing tall when the wind blows. They give a joy that grows deeper than any leafy branch could grow tall.

Oak tree with great roots

(Photo by Graham from Los Angeles. Oak Tree Uploaded by Skeezix1000. CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The roots will never seem urgent. What’s more, no one in our culture cares about the roots of our lives. (Just the leaves.) But in 20 years, the roots are all that matter. All of what we care about stems from those roots.

The Best Time to Plant a Tree

We have since moved away from the house where I planted my grandfather’s oak. But I drive by occasionally to see its progress. More than 20 years after I planted that tree, it flourishes. And its lesson stands tall.

Water those roots.

Question: What root in your life is a priority to you right now? To leave a comment, just click here.

Waiting on GodLike This Post? Get the Whole Book!

This post is adapted from Wayne’s book, Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does Nothing.

• What do you do when the life God has promised you looks nothing like the life he has given you?

If you find yourself waiting on God—or if you don’t know what God wants you to do next—this book offers a wise and practical guide to finding hope and peace in life’s difficult pauses.

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I'd love to hear your thoughts. Just keep it kind and relevant. Thanks!

  • Beautiful post, Wayne! I read it to my son as we had breakfast together this morning. You’re so right, it takes intentionality if we are going to have a strong root system.

    • That’s awesome, Laura! Your son is blessed to have a mom who will water his roots and prune his limbs. 🙂 Thanks for your encouraging words today.

  • Wade Webster

    Great reminder to concentrate our attention on our unseen roots, Wayne.
    This reminds me of the time my wife and I planted some Turk’s Cap bushes at our home in south Texas. Their flowers resemble Turkish hats and attract migrating hummingbirds. The soil must have been ideal for them. They flourished without much attention. Then, one day, one of the plants wilted for no apparent reason. Then a second one bit the dust. When we pulled them up we discovered that termites like this plant as well. They ate into the roots and cut off the precious nutrients the leaves needed. We never saw it coming.
    Keep close attention on your roots!

    • Wow, Wade. What a great story. But you’re right. Our adversary attacks the basics of the Christian life first. In fact, I think most of the failures that seem huge stem from a failure to pay attention to the basics. Thanks for your comments.

  • Donovan

    I really enjoyed your post about the Oak tree and I really thought about those 2 years it takes time to grow its roots..and those 2 years are the most important in the life of an Oak. In the life of a believer its about the time we are rooted in Christ through our reading of the Word and the time we spend in PRD Personal retreat day. Thanks for this today Wayne. Greetings from J-life SA. God bless

    • Thanks, Donovan. It’s tough to wait on those roots when life offers so many other “trash trees,” you know? Solid, slow growth in the Christian life, as you mentioned, is best—but the most difficult.

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  • Stephen Oliver

    Great Word…and we can go to the wellspring of living water that overflows to keep our tree’s roots nourished and healthy. The WORD is Spirit and dwells in my house, my heart and in my world today. Shalom and grace🕊❤️🤠

  • Michelle thick

    Good read. You talk right to me. In prayer God has been directing me to my life. There are some things he has been showing me that I need to change. I need to make my roots stronger so my family and I can be blessed. Also, to stay close with God’s presence. So cool. Thanks Wayne. God Bless.


    Love Wayne,yes that’s my priority for the root in my life,everything is based on love,because it will strengthen the foundation even in the strongest gusty wind,of course this type of love is the one that God approves Wayne,Love also defeats hate,grudge etc.

    • I just this week read chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians in my Bible reading. What a convicting chapter it is. God bless.