Taking it to heart

Tree Gall High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 24:26 Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.

Taking it to heart

If your family is anything like mine, then every time you get together, the conversation is full of stories started by one person and finished by two or three others in a chorus of the appropriate punch-line as everyone laughs. Or even better, everyone is starting to laugh before the punch line and trying not to choke on their food/drink or spew it on their neighbor(s). Those stories that are woven into the fabric of my family always include certain phrases like “it’s just around the next bend” (in reference to when we’ll get there on our family hike that is lasting far longer than we’d thought), “what do you think about that, Charles?” (that person who tended to sleep through church meetings), or “while you’re up” (with a pointed look at one sitting closest to the refrigerator to get more milk or ice or butter or…).

Other family phrases include “that hit the spot” (usually in reference to an especially good dinner or refreshing cold drink on a hot day) in contrast with “that galls me like nothing else” (another’s actions or words that went especially deep in hurt, anger, or frustration and now I’m trying not to nurse the anger, much less allow bitterness to develop). And unfortunately, I find myself saying that phrase about galls a lot more than I like, much less should be…

The gall in this phrase is in reference to galls or tumor-like knotty-looking growths on tree or shrub branches, trunks, and even roots and leaves. Galls on tree trunks or branches look like huge swollen knuckles in a fist sticking out of the side of a tree branch or trunk– angry-looking, hardened, and very rough in texture. These knotty growths have developed in response to an injury or insect infestation with subsequent infection by soil-borne bacteria or viruses. The most distinctive of the gall types, the crown galls, are those especially large and devastating ones caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a common soil-borne bacteria.

Other soil bacteria or viruses can also cause galls but these are usually smaller or have less impact on the plant itself. These unsightly galls, especially the crown galls, can leave a tree or shrub misshapen and deformed. If the injury or disease occurred when the tree was young and actively growing, the gall is near the base of the tree and can be so large that it causes the entire tree to be crooked, if not completely bent. And logically, the deeper the injury or more invasive the disease or insect infestation, the bigger the gall formed in response to it.

Galls are made of callous tissue which differs in many ways from regular plant tissue. Callous tissue grows very quickly and thus is different from regular plant tissue in such things as shape, composition, and alignment. This type of tissue even differs in DNA from uninfected or uninjured tissue because of the presence of foreign bacterial or viral genetic material from the infection causing the gall.

Callous tissue grows almost like cancer cells in that the regular phases of cell growth and development are not regulated properly. Normal cells undergo mitosis, the growth cycle for regular repair and replacement of “body” or soma (non-reproductive) cells. Mitosis involves replication of the original cell’s DNA and then production of another cell identical to the original cell as a copy. (Mitosis can be thought of as cloning.) Mitosis is occurring all the time in every cell in a healthy living organism. The exception is those of reproductive cells (sperm and egg in animals or pollen and ovule in plants) which experience a different kind of growth and replication at certain times only, called meiosis.

About ninety-five percent of a cell’s life cycle is spent in interphase or the resting state of mitosis when the cell is not activated to grow, replicate, and divide into making new cell copies of itself. However, if interphase is not properly activated, the cells keep dividing and dividing. When the cell stays in the rapid division stages of mitosis without entering interphase, there is a much greater chance of problems with the cell copies, including problems with replication of genetic material. When this happens, the cell copies are different than the original or “parent” cells. When the “daughter” cells (cell copies) are different than the parent cells, this can then morph into an even bigger problem if the copies were supposed to further develop into specific types of cells needed for proper plant growth and development. Such cells are considered to be undifferentiated cells that do not serve a specific purpose but rather can interfere in other plant processes or use up plant resources needed for other parts of the plant. When undifferentiated cells do not develop into the specific types of phloem, xylem, or other cell types needed for specific plant processes, there is loss of health, growth, and ultimately productivity. The callous tissue present in galls is the result of the formation of undifferentiated cells from problems in mitosis and inaccurate copies of the parent cells.

So not only is a gall ugly in visual aesthetics, it’s ugly in robbing the plant and the plant’s grower of potential productivity, be it timber, fruit, or flowers. If a tree has even one large gall, its’ usefulness for timber for furniture or building material is destroyed as the gall changes the shape and total board length for the tree. When this happens, the tree is only good for pulpwood which is far less profitable than timber.  Fruit and flower production can be slowed, if not stopped, on branches containing galls as the nutrients needed for the fruit and flowers have been used by the gall(s). Worse yet, the ugliness of galls can also be spread to other plants. The galls themselves can be sources of infection for other plants, if proper hygienic conditions are not maintained during crop harvest or plant removal.  

I see galls in all shapes and sizes nearly every day I have opportunity to be in the field or woods. Usually I don’t think too much about galls, but the other day, the thought came, “that’s you – you’ve let an ugly gall form on your heart because of __________’s words to you”.  And ouch, that conviction was true and went deep right where it needed to go – straight to that gall on my heart…

 ______’s words were well-intended and very applicable, but my own arrogance didn’t want to hear them, much less accept them, as truth. I had acted on the instinct to rear back in anger and let callous pride grow out of control over the wound from her words. Worse yet, this wound was starting to fester into bitterness. I wanted to be right and for ______ to be wrong, but that wasn’t truth, that was pride. I didn’t want to acknowledge that faithful are the wounds of a friend, much less that whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips from Proverbs 27:6a and 24:26, respectively. Thankfully, I hadn’t responded in words to ________, but the thoughts and emotions were still growing out of control and taking my focus away from the One Who loves _______ and me, equally (see John 3:16).

Many times God speaks truth to me through others’ words. And frequently, the ones He chooses or the manner in which they deliver truth are not what I would’ve chosen. Yet it is my choice to listen and receive them as seed for a future harvest for God’s glory and the good of His people. If the message (or the messenger) isn’t what I wanted to hear, a gall can form on my heart from my wrong response to God. If I see their words as “that just galls me” instead of receiving it as truth, an undifferentiated growth of pride will choke out the much-needed humility, grace, and mercy which are essential nutrients for a 100-fold harvest (Matthew 13). And then that ugly gall of arrogance can manifest ugliness in my life that spills into the lives of others through gossip, harsh words, dismissive actions, or rejection of relationships altogether against the command of Hebrews 10:25.

Scripture clearly tells us that right relationships between Christians is good and pleasant…like precious oil on the head (Psalm 133:2). Right relationships require work, time, humility, mercy- and grace-giving, endurance, and patience. Right relationships demand us to speak the truth in love so that we might grow up in every way unto Him, Who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15). Psalm 141:5a captures this idea with Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let not my head refuse it.

Yet speaking the truth in love can be hard and unpleasant but is a faithful and necessary wound from one friend to another. Just as it is my responsibility to rightly receive a wound of truth so that healing and growth might occur in my life, it is also my responsibility to deliver the same to a friend. This responsibility is both weighty and transforming for the both of us. I have to be clean before God as to be able to deliver His message and that requires me to be renewed and to grow (see Romans 12:1-2). Likewise, I have to be in prayer for my friend so that she might receive it as God has intended, for renewing and growth. If I lack on either responsibility of repentance of my sin or prayer for my friend, then the wound from truth can easily be infected and grow a gall in her heart, if not in mine, from her rejection or my disappointment in her response.

Truth must be received in its entirety – taken in whole – for it to be effective for healing and growth. This concept can be seen in the principle of grafting, another process by which galls commonly form. The purpose of grafting is to grow a type of fruit or flower on another plant that doesn’t produce that fruit or flower naturally. Many times the desired fruit or flower will come from a less vigorous, less disease-resistant, or slower-growing plant. Therefore, a fruit or flower bearing piece of this plant (the scion) will be incorporated into another more desirable plant (the rootstock) of another variety or even species that is better suited for producing more of this fruit or flower. For the scion to be grafted into the rootstock, a cut must be made on the branch of the rootstock to allow for direct contact between it and the scion. The direct contact must include clean surfaces for both types of plants in this process along with newly opened, fresh tissue without bark covering. Good contact between the fresh tissue in the rootstock cut and on the end of the scion is essential for sap flow between the plant types so they can ultimately, grow together as one plant. Usually strong rubber ties and/or special glues are used to keep the scion and rootstock properly situated as they grow together into being one plant.

Gall formation (and possible death of both scion and rootstock) can occur if cleanliness or good contact isn’t maintained during the grafting process. If a gall forms during grafting, it can keep the scion from bearing the desired fruit or flowers. The gall’s callous tissue won’t develop into the necessary differentiated tissue for nutrient and water flow between the scion and rootstock and thus, the scion won’t receive what it needs for growth, much less for fruit or flower production. This same principle holds with whether or not I receive truth into my life and heart. If my heart isn’t clean from sin in repentance and obedience, I will most likely allow a gall of arrogance and self-righteousness to form in place of where truth should be bringing healing and growth. And if this gall forms, I am in risk of loss of a vibrant, growing life in Christ Who is my supply of living water and the essentials for life itself. The loss might go unnoticed by me with repeated rejections of truth but my life will definitely show it in a decreased or total lack of fruit production (see John 15:4-7 and Galatians 5:22). Fruit might still be produced but it most likely won’t be that distinctive fruit I am longing for which can only come from that deliberate pushing-in closeness to Christ Himself (see Psalm 63:1-2). I, as a scion, cannot thrive without close contact to my Christ, the rootstock Who is Himself, the Root of David and Living Water. He nourishes me so that my fruit might bring Him glory and be for the good of His People. As much I might like to think that I can do this on my own, I am sorely deceived in any thought other than my dependence on Christ for everything, for every day.

And the most glorious truth is that Christ Himself has grafted me into His Life, once for all – Romans 11:24a For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree. If I have fully received that truth, then my scion life will be beautiful in receiving and telling the truth in love and bursting with fruit in reflection of the constant, tender, strong care of my Christ, the True Vine (see John 15:1-8).

Written by and copyrighted to Beth Madison, Ph.D., 2021

Published by Beth Madison

author, speaker, learner

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