I was so over the fighting. I had been wrestling with one of my foster daughters over the subject of appropriate clothing choices. “Go back into your room and change out of that mini- skirt,” I told her. “You can’t go to school like that . . .” She had gone into her room and slammed the door. I knew what was next; we watched this channel yesterday. She’d emerge in something I had bought her. I’d smile and tell her she looked cute. She’d stomp out the door, where I knew as soon as she turned the corner she’d pull off the clothes I approved, and reveal the micromini she had on underneath.
It was just one of many hills we were dying on.
Finally, I sought the counsel of a psychologist. He watched us for a day or two and then drew a picture of a tree, labeling it in three parts. “Beth,” he started, “I want you to imagine the foliage of the tree as the attitudes and actions of your foster daughter. It’s the part you see. Now, I want you to picture the trunk as her self-image. It’s what feeds her attitude and actions. It has been built over many experiences and over a long period of time. Finally, I want you to see the roots of this tree as her understanding of truth, specifically God’s truth.”
He continued, “The problem is every time you talk to her about her attitude and actions, it’s like you’re cutting off the top of the tree. I don’t know how much you understand horti- culture, but every time you cut off the top of a tree, it just grows back twice as strong.
“Her decision to dress inappropriately is directly linked to her self-image. She doesn’t see herself as having value. She is worth something only when she is herself plus a short skirt. Your comments to her are like cutting off the top of the tree when what you are really dealing with is a trunk issue. This trunk, or self-image, is linked to her root system, which is embedded with significant lies. The garden of her heart requires tending, and she must pull out the lies. She’s in need of an infusion of God’s truth.”
“Here’s what I want you to do,” he went on. “Spend the next several months—how about we say three?—just focusing on the roots. Fill your language with what’s true about God. Tell her what’s true about her.. Meanwhile, don’t address her attitudes or actions at all, unless she is going to hurt herself or someone else.”
I had been tracking with him until this point. “At all?” I managed to squeak out. “Not ‘Did you do your homework?’ or ‘Get off the phone,’ nothing about Internet usage, curfew, clothing, dishes, laundry, eye rolling, nothing?”
I honestly wasn’t sure I had it in me.
But desperation is a powerful motivator, and so as best as I could, I spoke to her only in statements reflecting God’s truths for weeks on end. It was like I was speaking a foreign language. I hate confessing it was harder than I wanted it to be.
She would come home telling me how someone provoked her with a nasty comment at school, and I said, “Regardless if they see it, you have incredible value and are wonderfully made.” She would lament about how everyone had spring break plans but her, and I whispered, “God has big plans for you, full of hope.”
My tongue practically bled.
However, something was clearly shifting. I started to become more fluent in this language of truth and liked who I was when I was around her. She didn’t always look so poised to strike when I approached, and I liked who she was around me. She listened closer when I spoke, and her reactions slowed while she processed my comments.
Sure enough, months into this new practice, she bent her stubborn knee before Jesus and prayed her way into the kingdom.
She and I are both still working out our faith with fear and trembling. As I saw fruit born in her life through the process of root pulling, I joined her by looking at the metaphorical garden of my own heart and how the roots there fed my own self-image. I would’ve rather looked at just her tree, but she wasn’t a project; she was iron scraping against my iron.
God uses my family regularly in my sanctification. He reminded me through this story- gospel sharing and gospel living starts at home.