Strangling Survivor.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

I was working on my kitchen just yesterday when I spotted it.

I have lived in a townhome that looks out onto a Florida wildlife preserve for almost 4 years now. In that time, I have seen wild turkeys gathering at my bird feeder, otters playing in the small pond just paces from my front door, and a soft shell turtle making his way through the unusually tall, flooded grass during a summer rainstorm. I would turn Savannah’s high chair around so she could eat with a view of the deer family nibbling on the cocoplum bushes just on the other side of the glass. And my sweet neighbor- bless her- has saved my butt a few times with her texts not to leave the house because there’s an alligator on my doorstep or under my car. Another one even sent our neighborhood social media group a picture of a bear peering in through her dining room windows, with a warning to be careful going outside over the next few weeks. 

I’ve seen all this wildlife out there, but none have quite caught my attention like this species I spotted. It was a strangler fig.

For those of you not familiar, a strangler fig is a type of tree native to Florida, the Caribbean, Southern Mexico and Central America south to Panama. The fig’s seeds are dropped by birds after being passed through their digestive tracts undamaged. These seeds stick to trees with a slimy seed coat and allow a strangler fig to begin growing nestled in the limbs of another tree. The fig sends aerial roots down to the ground. Once stabilized, the figs begin to grow faster and thicker, sending down even more aerial roots. They wrap around the host tree to hold themselves up. 

The strangler fig’s mission is to steal the host tree’s sunlight by sending forth shoots that canopy the tree’s own branches, and to steal its nutrients by sending down roots that soak up all the soil’s water and minerals. After stealing so much, the strangler fig finds it easy to squeeze the life out of the host tree. It wraps its aerial roots closer and tighter around the tree until it has constricted all growth. Trees grow by increasing their girth and this is no longer possible within the fig’s clutches. The host tree is finally destroyed when, dead and decaying, it begins to disintegrate. The tree’s disintegration feeds the strangler fig all the more. Soon, all that remains is a hollow, cylindrical network of roots. Though such a design would not typically be durable enough to stand on its own, the fig sturdied itself around a host just long enough to completely stabilize itself. Now, even hollow, the strangler fig stands, dropping seeds that will be ingested to start the sorrowful process again. 

You might think I’m some kind of budding botanist, documentary indulgent, or even a seasoned science teacher to have taken such an interest in strangler figs. I can assure you, I am none of those things. The reason I know so much about Florida’s strangler fig is because it’s the way the Father gained my attention about what was happening in my own thought life.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5  helps us understand that not every thought that crosses our mind is our own. There are thoughts lovingly whispered by the Holy Spirit within us. These are the thoughts that remind us who we are and how we’re loved. They lead us to take risks and to reach out for help when we need it. They fill us with a compassion that compels us to sacrifice our own comforts for the sake of another. And then there are the thoughts that send a shiver down our spines. Spoken by a cruel enemy, they spread shame, threats, and lies. These are the thoughts tearing us down for decisions we’ve made or the things that have been done to us. They tell us we’ll never be enough, that we aren’t safe, or we’re not worth the same love we give to others.If we’ve spent enough time in the Father’s presence we can usually discern the difference, but what happens when we don’t? 

Since the day the serpent slithered through Eden, his lies have been the same. He takes a truth from God and uses it to anchor the deception he intends to grow down and take root. This lie doesn’t sound all bad. It’s not the blatant disobedience or blasphemy we’d expect from an enemy of God. It’s subtle, and that’s why it’s so dangerous. 

It starts with questioning what God’s already said, making Him seem mean-spirited, dismissive, or restrictive. In Genesis 3, we see the serpent approach Eve and ask her if God really said she shouldn’t eat from any of the trees within the Garden. Of course He didn’t. Even Eve remembers this and corrects the serpent, but watch how not knowing God’s Word and storing it in her heart can quickly be used against her. 

Eve responds to the enemy that she can eat of all the trees but one, then she remarks that God told her not to eat or even touch that one though or she’d surely die. There’s only a slight difference between this lie and the revealed word of God. God hadn’t said anything about touching the fruit of the tree of knowledge. It revealed a vulnerability that a vile enemy could then invade. It was just a small gap in understanding, but, like a strangler fig seed nestled in the branches of an unsuspecting host, a small gap can prove deadly if not dealt with. 

With a deeper insight to where Eve was, the serpent challenged the character of God then left Eve to spiral with her own doubts and suspicions. Eve should have known Her Father. She had daily opportunities to walk hand in hand with Him. She could have gone to Him with this very question. But when the enemy spoke against Him, Eve let the lie of distrust wrap itself around the truth of God’s defensive Word. Where He wanted to protect her, Eve started to believe He wanted to imprison her. Where others would have seen a beautiful Garden full of flourishing, diverse life given freely, Eve could only see the one tree God had asked her not to eat from. And it was devastatingly beautiful,  like those thick dangling roots that seem to mesmerize us before we realize the destruction they bring.

Scripture says Eve took a look at the fruit of the tree for herself and- finding it appetizing and appealing- made a judgment call. She knew what God had said, but she decided this instruction wasn’t for her. She didn’t count herself among the ones (well, the two) God loved and gave His best. She began to think God was holding out on her, and it led to hiding in shame and having to leave the Garden of Eden. The destruction of intimacy and the disintegration of the way she once walked with Him. Oh Eve. 

We aren’t told much about Eve’s thoughts as she was forced to leave the garden. We know she blames her disobedience on the serpent. We see God clothe her in animal skins to help her overcome the shame of her nakedness- Scripture’s first nod to the necessity of a blood sacrifice.  But we don’t know what she felt as she left Eden, how she struggled with the weight of sin, or whether this harsh new reality reinforced any more lies about God. Did the crumbling of the truth she knew further feed the lie? Or could she see all the ways He was still caring for her?

Just a few chapters later, we see her acknowledge the Lord’s help with the birth of a son and all seems well. But then we watch Cain banished the same way his mother was from Eden. And for what reason? He didn’t think God valued him as highly as his brother Abel. Cain thought God was holding out on him, so he killed his competition. Eve’s wrestle with a whispered lie was passed on to her son like another strangling seed. 

Even one small lie can become an entire stronghold that can sacrifice our family’s legacy. Lies that would never ordinarily stand on their own, so they anchor themselves to the things we know. They take root, growing slowly over time, bending and twisting their way about truth, squeezing until we feel the tension. 

We think the Christian life should be categorized by joy, but we’ve experienced increased hardship and suffering since saying yes. We read God’s will is to heal, but our loved one still died. We prayed for protection, but things fell apart.

In that tension we have a choice… to go to God’s Word with our uncomfortable questions and let Him tear the strangling roots of these lies from us, or to bear the discomfort, perhaps even thinking it bravery, until the foundation of truth finally just disintegrates. Until all that’s left standing is the free-standing yet hollow stronghold of tangled lies. Bitterness that comes with the thought that God is cruel and doesn’t actually care about His kids. Striving that comes with the perspective that maybe God rewards us based on our performance. Comparison from thinking others are our competition instead of understanding the gift of connection. One crack-open of the Bible and it becomes obvious that none of this has ever been true, but we’ve separated ourselves enough from the refreshing of His Word to remember any of that.

 Thankfully, Scripture shows us Eve’s choice. She never totally let go of God. With each child she had, she acknowledged the Lord in gratitude. She knew that leaving the Garden did not erase her relationship with God, just the ease she once approached Him with. She chose to hold on even when it didn’t all make sense.

 It’s the same for us. Believing a lie doesn’t mean we’re cast away from God’s sight. We’ll never be out of His sight.  Rather, believing a lie usually means we start to wander in distrust. If we don’t do anything about it then this wandering happens, lie after lie, footstep after footstep, until He’s eventually out of our sight. 

And so, this is how I found myself creeping out onto the wildlife preserve behind my home, barefoot and bent on tearing down a strangler fig with my bare hands before my husband stopped me and demanded to know what on earth was happening. This is how I stopped letting myself be strangled. This is how I am surviving.