As I write about often, when we want to change, we must examine our beliefs. Changing behavior can be easy unless we want the changes to be permanent. When that’s our goal – and it should be – we must be more intentional.

If you want to change your attitudes and actions regarding race and race relations, you’ll need to change your beliefs. Talking about what we’ve done in the past, sharing opinions about what others are doing, sharing quotes from significant people, and even sharing Scripture (as I’ve done), doesn’t work unless we let these thoughts to change our beliefs. 

Perhaps this analogy will help you think things through. 

Before I traveled as much as I do now, I enjoyed growing African violets. Of course, to enjoy the pink, purple, and white blossoms, I had to take care of the plants by putting them in the right light and watering the soil. I had to pull off and throw away dead blossoms. I also had to pay attention and transfer plants to larger containers when they were no longer growing. This was a sign the roots were crowded. The beauty depended on what I could not see.

Now I only grow ordinary vines in vases full of water. There’s no soil to dry up or crowded-out roots. I can have plants and still travel. Usually. 

After being away from my home for a month, I got home to discover that several leaves had fallen from one of my vines. Enough water had evaporated and been used by the roots to mean some roots didn’t have access to their source of life. Without roots functioning well, part of the vine withered, and leaves died. I was disappointed.

Roots don’t just matter in plants. They matter in us. In a plant, the roots anchor the plants and absorb nutrients and moisture. For us, our past serves as an anchor and a significant source of beliefs and attitudes.

Today does influence tomorrow. Childhood influences adulthood. Who we are now has something to do with who we used to be. Absolutely! I have often talked about the need to kill the spider (the cause of our behavior) rather than just sweeping away the web (the behavior). We need to dig up roots to change the fruit.

Have you been frustrated that change comes slowly or doesn’t last? Perhaps, as I have often done, you have simply dusted the spider webs from the window sill only to wake up the next day to discover they’re back. Maybe you have pulled dead blossoms from plants thinking you’d never have to do that again.

If we want a beautiful life, we must dig deep. We must understand and accurately interpret our roots. Our history can’t be changed, but we can learn to change what we think about it.

Too many people are controlled by their past and they don’t even know it. Digging up our roots and being planted in healthier soil of accurate understandings changes us.

I’m not surprised God uses a tree and roots analogy when sharing about people who trust in God in Jeremiah 17:7-8. Ultimately, this is what I pray for us all. As you continue to journey in the life you have, may you choose to trust more in God. He will help you see your past accurately and with compassion. He will help you learn new beliefs, behaviors, and strategies going forward. I pray that because we learn to trust God, we are each “like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

  • I wrote that our past serves as an anchor and a significant source of beliefs and attitudes. What past experiences are affecting your current beliefs about race? For some of us, it’s attitudes that older relatives had and passed on to us. You can’t go back and change your experiences or your relatives’ opinions. Can you put them in perspective and change your beliefs? Will you?
  • What 2-3 specific beliefs do you want to change? Identify roots for each. What happened that caused you to believe what you believe? Think about how the experiences you had are not relevant today.
  • Often, writing out new beliefs helps us own them. I encourage you to do that.

NOTE: to create this blog post for you, I edited the foreword I wrote for a new book, Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors. If you want a deeper dive and a personal chance to reflect on how your past experiences are still affecting you today, I highly recommend this book.