The Lord says: Cursed is the man who puts his trust in mortal man and turns his heart away from God. He is like a stunted shrub in the desert, with no hope for the future; he lives on the salt-encrusted plains in the barren wilderness; good times pass him by forever. But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his hope and confidence. He is like a tree planted along a riverbank, with its roots reaching deep into the water—a tree not bothered by the heat nor worried by long months of drought. Its leaves stay green, and it goes right on producing all its luscious fruit. [Jeremiah 17:5-8 (TLB)]
The stunted shrub about which Jeremiah speaks is much like the tumbleweed. If you haven’t seen it in real life, you’ve probably seen it blowing across the desert in movies. The tumbleweed is actually the Russian thistle, a common western weed, and has a pretty little flower. Once mature and dry, however, the entire plant separates from the root; shaped like a ball, it looks like the dead shrub’s skeleton. In the western states, you can see tumbleweeds as small as soccer balls or as large as a Smart Car in ditches or tumbling along the desolate landscape.
On the other hand, cottonwoods are hardy trees. Much like the ones mentioned in Jeremiah, they put their roots down near rivers, lakes, and irrigation ditches throughout the southwest. Large trees, they have been known to grow up to eighty feet tall with trunks over five feet wide. Because they grow on the water’s edge, they typically survive prairie fires and can live over one hundred years. The hardy Rio Grande cottonwood even flourishes in New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument, an environment too harsh for most plants. In an area of scorching heat, scant rainfall, relentless winds, poor soil and blowing sand, the cottonwood survives because its roots are planted firmly down into the life-giving water hidden beneath the sand.
Do we want to live as a tumbleweed, dry and rootless in a barren land, with no hope for the future? That is what it will be like if we put our trust in our own strength or that of other people. Or do we want to be like the cottonwood, with deep roots, able to withstand fire, heat, wind and drought? If we put our trust in the Lord, we will never be alone and we’ll be able to survive, perhaps even thrive, in the most stressful of situations.