The Shack


William P. Young

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Gardens Symbol Icon

Gardens are used in The Shack to demonstrate the complexity of human emotions, as well as the necessity of feeling both pain and happiness. At the opening of the story, Mack is overwhelmed by a depression he thinks of as The Great Sadness, which prevents him from feeling much of anything and from appreciating the natural beauty around him, like softly falling snow or a moonlit lake. Mack suppresses his emotions so that he will not have to face his overwhelming guilt and sadness about the death of his daughter Missy.

Sarayu, an embodiment of the Holy Spirit, helps Mack to see that all emotions are worthy of being felt. She demonstrates this by taking him to a beautiful, wild garden, which includes poisonous plants as well as flowers. Just as “negative” emotions serve important roles, these thorny plants are important parts of the garden ecosystem, serving their own purpose and beautiful in their own way. Also like complex human emotions, the garden appears to those within it as overgrown and wild, but Sarayu explains that, from above, it appears as a fractal, a complicated, ordered pattern of repeating shapes. In the same way, however messy they may feel, emotions are actually not random but derive from a pattern of underlying beliefs. Understanding this can help Mack face his bad emotions as well as his good. That Sarayu, Jesus, and Papa help Mack bury Missy in the garden and plant a tree over her shows that although the sadness of her death will always be with him, so, too, will the joy of her life.

Gardens Quotes in The Shack

The The Shack quotes below all refer to the symbol of Gardens. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Independence from God Theme Icon
Chapter 9 Quotes

“Your question presumes that poison is bad, that such creations have no purpose. Many of these so-called bad plants, like this one, contain incredible properties for healing or are necessary for some of the most magnificent sonders when combined with something else. Humans have a great capacity for declaring something good or evil, without truly knowing.”

Related Characters: Sarayu (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips
Related Symbols: Gardens
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“The world is broken because in Eden you abandoned relationship with us in order to assert your own independence. Most men have expressed it by turning to the work of their hands and the sweat of their brows to find their identity, value, and security.”

Related Characters: Jesus (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips
Related Symbols: Gardens
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
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Gardens Symbol Timeline in The Shack

The timeline below shows where the symbol Gardens appears in The Shack. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
The Nature of God Theme Icon
...goes by Jesus to many. The second woman introduces herself as Sarayu, keeper of the gardens. Mack is confused by the three people, who do not match his expectations of God—but... (full context)
Chapter 9: A Long Time Ago, in a Garden Far, Far Away
Independence from God Theme Icon
Mack follows Sarayu into a beautiful, seemingly disordered garden. She says that the garden follows a complicated pattern of fractals, but from the ground... (full context)
The Nature of God Theme Icon
...clear the roots from the patch of ground, Mack asks if there really was a Garden of Eden, and Sarayu says there was. Mack says that will displease some people, but... (full context)
Grief and Emotion Theme Icon
Just then, Papa approaches and compliments their work. Sarayu says that the garden itself is actually Mack’s soul, beautiful, wild, and still in process. He is overwhelmed with... (full context)
Chapter 17: Choices of The Heart
Grief and Emotion Theme Icon
Sarayu leads them outside to the space in the garden that Mack helped her clear the day before. There is a hole there and they... (full context)