Contrary to what we may think, the sagebrush is not a useless plant stuck way out in dry, arid places. It has much to commend itself. The fact that it's so common doesn't diminish its value. As a cousin to the daisy family, it has a not unpleasant, although pungent aroma. In the lonely desert with no human beings to appreciate it, it persists in being beautiful with lovely yellow flowers and evergreen foliage. Although it lives in a dry land, it's extensive taproot finds water deep beneath it. Its surface roots gather water from the sparse rains, so whatever the conditions, it can survive.
The many branched bush is a shady shelter and hiding place for small and larger animals as its silver-gray foliage provides a good camouflage. The sagebrush isn't going anywhere—it is soundly anchored in the desert. It can be depended on to grow where it is planted and fulfill its purpose. Its foliage when applied topically is used by Native Americans for medicine, healing infection, and in the treatment of many illnesses.
A sagebrush copycat
In the process of my research I found an impostor to the worthy sagebrush. The tumbleweed, an equally beautiful pink and white blossoming shrub that looks much like the sagebrush also grows in arid, sandy soil areas. Several species were brought over from the Ukraine in about 1887 to South Dakota along with flax seeds. That is why it is often called the Russian thistle or “wind witch.” It gradually took over the barren landscape as Kudzu has in other areas. During its green growing season, it can easily be mistaken for the sagebrush. But in late summer its branches dry up, the plant dies, and seeds are produced which are poisonous and distasteful to animals, so they stay clear of the tumbleweed. A single plant may grow up to 3 feet and bear 250,000 seeds.
The strong, hot winds force the tumbleweed to detach from the soil, leave its roots behind, and abandon its birth place to take off to parts unknown, rolling and tumbling like an acrobat wherever the wind carries it. The purpose is to disperse their seeds as they go along to produce more tumbleweeds. The seeds are short lived and germinate rapidly wherever they land. When the dead tumbleweeds bump into each other, because they are thorny, they spontaneously entangle. These collections of trouble become monstrous in size so they can no longer roll. They block highways and impede cars as they roll against them. The wind piles them high against fences and even against houses and buildings in huge stacks where they block the entrances. The dry plants are flammable and become a fire hazard. The tumbleweed is said to have no redeeming value.
Wisdom wins out
Seeking for a spiritual analogy between the worthy sagebrush and the useless, dangerous tumbleweed is not difficult, nor is the contrast between the the two “look-alike” plants. As Jesus taught in parables (analogies), He came close in His story of the wheat and the tares (also “look alike”) being allowed by the Lord of the Harvest to grow together until the Day of Judgment.
Many Christians find themselves planted by God in isolated, forsaken, dry and arid places even while living in densely populated urban areas. Spiritually, we may perceive our environment either to be like a desert place or a jungle. Whichever is our reality, God wants us to be content, satisfied, and fruitful wherever He plants us. Jesus is there with us in each locale, never forsaking us. We are to blossom for Him under both extremes, in the dense, tropical rain forest and in the scorching, arid desert. Strikingly beautiful flowers bloom for their Creator in both places whether or not there are any human eyes around to enjoy them. Those who are “in Christ” are His precious desert flowers. We may be planted where Living Water is scarce, but like the sagebrush, we know where to find it as we point our roots to the deep. Having received the Living Water, we are to bear it to others.
Sagebrush people are “sage”; they wisely don't complain asking, “Why Me?” The answer is no secret. They identify their generous calling to provide shade, encouragement, and shelter for others. They give up their “leaves” for the healing and restoration of others. Their environment may be no picnic in the park. It may involve getting sand in our shoes and in our mouths, and enduring scorching heat. The first chapter of 2 Corinthians sets forth our clear agenda. God has a purpose for wherever He has put us: first of all, that we might prove Him sufficient for all our needs, and second, for others in the same or similar situations to comfort and strengthen and encourage them.
Isaiah 58:6-11 becomes more specific: We are to spend ourselves for others and in doing so, we will be like a well-watered garden, an ever-flowing spring, an oasis to point the way to Jesus. We are not to seek a change of environment but stay anchored by our roots.
The impostor tumbleweed person allows his roots to be severed with any strong gust of wind and is likely just to take off. He becomes “driven and tossed by the wind” in terms that James 1:6 describes. Such people in their restless blowing and tumbling about find it easy to get entangled with others like themselves and together they become a formidable threat and danger to others. They spread “seeds of malcontent” which reproduce their characteristics and multiply themselves.
As Jesus so often reminded, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” “Make your ear attentive to wisdom [be sage!], incline your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2).
(From some of Leona's research for her forthcoming 5th new book for 2016 titled SAGE BRUSHINGS: Painting With Words)