Tearing Out Emotional Vines
By Mary Rabe
The other day I went to a friend’s new house to help her pull ivy up from around a big tree she has in the front yard. The ivy had started out manageable, but when the previous homeowners stopped taking care of it, it completely took over the yard! It was everywhere, covering up what once were lovely footpaths, decorative rocks, and even a beautiful water feature; and it was also starting to choke out and kill the other plants in the yard.It was a big job, but one I was happy to help my sweet friend try to tackle.
We set to work, pulling on gloves and getting ready to “sweat it out” in the warm summer evening. Things started out slow as we were surprised by how hard some of them were to dislodge (a few so deeply-rooted that they wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard we pulled!) We tried cutting them with hedge trimmers, wrapping vines around our hands and leaning back to pull them out, taking rakes to them…It was hard, hot work with not much progress that we could see.
As we worked, I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with my counselor just that afternoon. It had been an emotional and tough session with her as I came to realize that I held a deeply-rooted belief about myself that was completely untrue, but was damaging many of my relationships, as well as adding a lot of anxiety and hurt to my life. This lie started out as a tiny little seed planted in my heart as a child, and as the years passed it grew stronger and bigger and eventually took deep root in my heart, morphing into something just as overwhelming and hard to pull out as the ivy my friend and I were battling.The similarities between my inner reality and the activity of the evening were very striking, and I found it very therapeutic to pull and rip up the ivy, thinking of it as a very real picture of how I wanted to get rid of that false belief in the same way. The next question I had, though, was how exactly to get rid of the vines covering up my heart? With some prayer and thought, here are some things I came up with.
- Recognize that the “ivy” is there, and it isn’t a good thing. I think a lot of us have emotional vines covering up our hearts, things we believe or have made up to try to protect ourselves from others or cover over things we are ashamed of. Maybe we hold onto bitterness to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. Maybe we decide it’s easier and safer to hide behind a lie than it is to be genuine and vulnerable with others. Maybe we keep up a false joy because recognizing and dealing with the sadness is just too painful. Just like the vines of ivy looked pretty but were destroying that tree in my friend’s yard, emotional ivy looks beautiful on the outside, but underneath it has deep, ugly roots that are leeching the life out of our souls. I think the very first step to getting rid of this problem is to realize it’s there, to accept that it isn’t a good thing, and decide we want it out.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ~1 John 1:9
- Find others to help you tear it out.Just like my friend needed help to get rid of the ivy in her yard, we need support and help from loved ones to get rid of the deeply-rooted false beliefs, bitterness, or hurt we hold in our hearts. Battling major problems like this isn’t something we were meant to handle alone. Now, I understand it can be embarrassing and really challenging to let people in enough to even know you have yucky vines cluttering up your inner space! I urge you, though, to step out in courage and humility to let in a few trusted people to walk with you in this challenge. Who knows? They may ask you to return the favor!
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” ~Galatians 6:2 (ESV)
- Call in the professionals. Sometimes our best efforts just aren’t quite enough to rip out the deep roots of a longtime hurt or false belief, and we need somebody with the skills and knowledge to eradicate these things to step in and help us.Like above, this can be a hard and embarrassing step, but sometimes it’s also absolutely necessary and can make a huge difference. I wasn’t even aware of my emotional vines until I saw a counselor and she helped me to recognize them. Don’t be afraid to get help!
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” ~James 5:16
- Remember this won’t be a quick or easy process.Usually things that take root in our hearts didn’t get there overnight; it took months or even years for them to sink their roots down and start growing into what they are today, and it can take that long to get rid of them.Try not to get discouraged when things don’t feel better right away (or even after a long while!) Instead, go into this eradication process expecting it to be a long project, with lots of blood, sweat, and tears.Tearing the ivy out at my friends’ house led to pretty intense blisters on our fingers, and ripping out lies or bitterness in our hearts is no less painful. It takes tenacity, courage, and patience to carry out any large-scale renovation, and those done in our hearts are no different.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” ~Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)
- Don’t let that ivy come back.I asked my friend if she was going to leave any ivy behind (since it really can look quite attractive when it isn’t taking over the yard!) and she emphatically replied that she was taking it all out, no exceptions! She knew that it was just too hard to keep up with, and she didn’t want all of our hard work to go to waste when that lingering ivy took over again in a few months. My friend’s wisdom applies to our emotional vines, too. Once you’ve done the hard work of getting the lies, bitterness, or hurt out of there, be proactive in keeping it out! If those old thoughts start to pop up again, trying to leave little seeds behind, stop them in their tracks! It is so much easier to stop little baby vines from growing then it is to tear out full-grown, deep-rooted ones.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” ~Ephesians 6:10-13 (ESV)
Helping my friend pull up ivy was hard work, but so rewarding. As the evening wore on, my friend’s husband got home and joined our little team, and he added quite a bit more strength as well as some better methods for ripping the vines out. Together, we were able to clear a huge area in their front yard, saving the beautiful old tree that had been choked out by the vines and also revealing some pretty special items, including something that actually brought tears to my eyes because of how much it correlated with what I was battling internally: a large, heart-shaped rock. That ivy had been covering that rock for years, and nobody could see it or even know of its existence until we pulled out the ivy. In much the same way, I knew that until I dealt with the emotional “vines” that had grown inside me, nobody would be able to truly see my heart or know me as I was meant to be known. It was a very meaningful visual from my loving Heavenly Father, and a sweet grace to my heart.
It was exciting and fun to see the “treasures” that had long been buried by all of the thick vines in my friend’s yard! Every time we found a new rock or pretty little plant that had been hidden, we all shouted for the others to come and see and had a mini celebration. I’m certain that as we work on removing the emotional vines within us, we will have the same fantastic blessings.I wonder what treasures lay waiting for us underneath the vines rooted in our hearts?Let’s pull on our gloves, call together a team, and get to work finding out.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” ~Psalm 51:10 (ESV)