There are lessons to be learned from these trees. I am learning that God reveals visual metaphors for deep realities of life and faith if we work to quiet ourselves, come apart from all the distractions, and just look and listen. Thanks to the generosity of friends who have allowed us to use their cabin in the woods for the last ten years, I’ve gotten to know these trees better and better with each annual visit. They are fascinating. And they are teaching me.
One of my “happy places” is in this chair. There are two of them on this deck. At times, I’ve sat in this chair with my wife or one of my kids in the other, just talking. In the morning, this chair has become a place to read and ponder God’s Word. There are also days where I sit in this chair and just look around. The view is rather simple as you can only see trees and sky. It’s a view that’s never gotten old. That’s how I’ve come to know these trees that otherwise might just be background “noise.”
Over the years the contrast between these trees and the trees in my yard at home has become marked. They are so different. At home, the trees in my yard were all planted by me when we moved into the house twenty-two years ago. They were carefully placed and spaced. They’ve grown up and out, becoming fuller and taller as the years have passed. They’ve all had room to grow.
The trees I’ve come to know here at this cabin are different. This forest is dense, with trees growing sometimes just a foot or two from each other. When you look at these trees, the first thing you notice is their height. They are tall. You also notice that their height had to be achieved rather quickly. You know this because their trunks are relatively thin compared to our trees at home. You realize that the reason for this is the thickness of this forest. To survive, a tree has to grow up quickly in order to reach for the sunlight that gives it life, that nourishes it, and that sustains it. Branches and leaves are markedly absent from the lower three quarters of these trees. Rather, they are more abundant near the top, where they are able to see and benefit from the sun.
But scattered amongst these many living trees are both standing and fallen dead trees. They started to grow, but never made it. I’m not an arborist, but to my untrained eyes it appears that these trees never made it to the heights where they could benefit from the sun that gives life. At some point, life left them.
One tree that I find absolutely fascinating sits just off the deck. It reaches just as high as the others. At its top it is filled with healthy looking branches covered with green leaves. But as your eyes drop to where this tree meets the ground, you quickly realize that at some point, this tree was so traumatized that it started to die. But there, on either side of the death in the trunk, is life. Almost like two veins running up from the roots to the heights, there are these two compensatory “auxiliary trunks” (I’m sure there’s an actual name for these. . . I, however, don’t know what it is!) that take moisture and nourishment to the top. And so, it continues to grow to the point where at its’ top, it is indistinguishable from all the other trees in this forest.
Yesterday afternoon, while the sun was shining brightly, I sat and looked carefully at these trees. I compared the tall trees, the dead trees, and the tree that somehow kept struggling and reaching in spite of its’ trauma. What immediately came to mind was my own need to battle and reach for the light of the truths of God’s Word if I am going to survive and thrive with abundance in this world that is filled with noise, diversion, clutter, and the empty promises of so many false redeemers. I recalled what we so often told our youth group kids twenty-five years ago and more when we would talk about the many competing voices and choices they would face in this world. “When God calls you into a relationship with Himself, do all you can to pursue the voice of Jesus,” we would say. “He alone is the way, the truth, the life, and the light of the world. He is the one who gives you life. Seek Him and bathe yourself in the Word.” Now, twenty-five years later, the kids that sat in that room are represented by all these kinds of trees.
As I look at these trees I pray for myself. . . for my family. . . and for those who are younger. I pray that we will pursue the truth. I pray that we will be brought to life rather than death. And I pray that God in His faithfulness will work through any trauma, woundedness, or hurt that would leave us dead. . . and that we would through His mercy and grace overcome these things to live and grow into His light.