This Tip is a little longer, but it is well worth the read. Get ready to learn something powerful just like I did one day at lunch. Years ago, I was on a church staff in Dallas, Texas. Our church had a full-time staff psychologist, Dr. Charles Lowery. His office was next to mine, and we became good friends. We had lunch together almost daily. On a couple of occasions, our families even vacationed together. We had many good years learning and growing together, not only in ministry, but in our personal lives as well.
One day as we were having lunch together, we began to talk about some things that were happening at the church. As I shared my observations, my words focused on the “fruit” regarding the situation at hand. Suddenly, Charles looked at me and said, “It is true that by a person’s fruit we judge what is going on in their life, but if we can understand someone’s ‘roots,’ we can better understand their actions.” He then simply added, “I suppose you could say, by their fruits you shall know them, but by their roots you shall understand them.” We both stopped, looked at each other and started smiling. I got out my pen and wrote down what Charles had just said. I told him that was one of the most profound things I had ever heard. He laughed and said, “I think it is one of the most profound things I ever said!”
Again, and again that simple truth has helped me to better understanding different situations, perhaps more than any other concept I know. It is one thing for me to try to understand a situation that I am dealing with, but if I can begin to see or understand what is going on behind the issue at hand, and what is motivating or causing the situation to occur, I will suddenly enter into a deeper understanding. The real key, I believe, is to break an issue into two different parts. The first part is to see what is occurring at the moment. That is called the fruit. But that is only half of the equation. The other half is to take the time to see what is motivating that behavior or what is behind the action. That is called the root. I find, in many cases, that a difficult person is one who has been hurt by someone, or who is motivated by fear that something bad is about to happen to them again. Hurt and fear are both dangerous fuels that cause a person to act, or react, in a negative way. If I am looking only at the outward “fruit” of an action, rather than the inward “root” of an action, it can be deceiving. Discernment requires wisdom, and again, a separation of two different issues. Although I may not like the fruit of a situation, in many cases, when I have discovered the “why” behind it, suddenly, everything begins to make sense. Then I find that I am able to act in a more helpful or appropriate manner enabling a better outcome or end result.
When I was a principal, we had a wonderful ninth grade student named Pam. She was diligent about turning in her homework, and she expressed a good attitude about everything. I can still remember the day I met her grandparents when they first enrolled her in our school.
One day Pam’s algebra teacher came to me and said that Pam seemed to be “fluffing off in class.” Her homework had not been turned in for several days. The teacher had spoken to Pam, but the conversation seemed to go nowhere. It was as if Pam did not want to talk about it. The teacher asked me if I would have a talk with her. I never will forget what happened next. When Pam and I sat down to talk, I told her that we were concerned about the fact that she seemed to be “zoned out” and her homework was not being turned in on time. Pam looked at me and said, “I know I have seemed a little ‘out of it’ lately, but I guess it is because of what is going on in our family. You see, one night seven years ago, I heard my mother and father having a terrible argument. They were yelling so loudly that it woke me up. I walked downstairs just in time to see my father pull out a gun and kill my mother. That is the reason I have been living with my grandparents all these years. My dad went to prison, and he was there for over seven years, but he was released last week. Not many people know about this. Now my father has returned and is arguing with my grandparents, because he wants me to live with him. It is a difficult situation.”
Suddenly, the completion of Pam’s algebra homework seemed very, very insignificant to me. I sat there thinking that this poor girl was going through a more difficult time at fifteen years old than I had gone through in my entire life. And we had been focusing on her algebra homework?! I assured her that she did not have to worry about her algebra homework at the moment. As a matter of fact, I think I even told her that I would do it for her, if she needed some help! You see, once I understood the root of her situation, all of the fruit began to make sense. We were focused on what was taking place on the surface. However, there was a much deeper root issue taking place. When we understood the root issue, we understood the entire situation. It all made sense. Again, “by their fruits you shall know them, but by their roots, you shall understand them.”
If you are going through a difficult time right now, or if you are dealing with a difficult situation or relationship, try separating the issues between what is taking place on the surface, which is the “fruit,” and what is taking place underneath the surface, which is the “root.” We are all products of our past, but the good news is that we do not have to be prisoners of our past. If we will just gain some wisdom, we can see changes take place in our lives even though our roots may be deeply entrenched in things that have haunted us (and perhaps our entire family) for many generations. Whether it is in your own life or the life of another person, try to gain a clearer understanding of what is motivating the behavior behind the situation. That will allow you to know how to deal with it more effectively. I will also add when helping others cope with difficult things, I have found that many times just being quiet, giving someone my undivided attention, listening, or offering some words of emotional support, or just giving someone an occasional pat on the back or hug, is all that person really needs. A small act of kindness can help bring healing to the root problem, and in time the fruit may change. This is a powerful concept. I trust you will put it to use and let it become part of the way you see things in your daily life.
Tip: By their fruits you shall know them, but by their roots, you shall understand them!
Have a great week! God bless you!
Dr. Robert A. Rohm