from new hope for dry bones: the good tree

Joy and I have an oak tree in our backyard her father planted back in the early 90’s. It’s really nice and leafy now in all the right times, but there were a few years when we really wondered if we were actually going to lose the tree. Every spring when the leaves came on, they were dark in color and somewhat curled, and remained that way through the season.

It took a few years, but the tree finally seems to have healed itself. Looks great now. I’m still a bit concerned. I think it drops more branches than it should, but the only other trees we have are oaks, so I’ve nothing to accurately compare it to. Still, my overall impression it has moved on with its life.

So… this ongoing was the first thing that crossed my coffee-challenged mind when I read Mike Ridenour’s grace-filled, deeply personal, way to close to home post from New Hope for Dry Bones this morning. I pretty much compare my own life to the oak in our backyard. Yup, looks great on the outside, but if one looks just a little bit closer…

The trees around my house all look pretty much the same right now.  They stand naked and sway back and forth in the icy wind that is blowing through a great deal of the country.

Hopefully, when springtime arrives, buds will appear that grow into clusters of green leaves that whisper when the wind weaves its way through them.

Sadly, one of those trees will look just like it does now, minus being frozen to the core.

One of those trees didn’t last past the first few weeks after we planted it.  It was a beauty, too.  I dug that hole in the ground, placed that tree in it, watered it faithfully and the fruit of my labor was a dead tree.

It stood out there all last summer, no leaves, no quiet rustling.  It was just a modified stick stuck in the ground.  I’d say it was a bad tree.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about trees over the years.  From analyzing the words to Rush’s song about the Oaks and the Maples to poems waxing eloquent about the majesty of them.

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas
— Neil Peart

I think this fascination with trees has always been with me.  As a kid, given the opportunity to choose between a playground or a clump of forest to play in, I’d choose the woods any day.  I seemed to always wear that proof in the form of an itchy rash due to poison ivy.

As I got older, I’d seek the quiet at the base of a tree on top of a cushion of leaves to sit and dream of what life would be like if I was just a little different than I was., if I was more talented, smarter, more likable and all the other things I lusted for as I was growing up.

Somewhere along the way, the tree that I was growing into started going bad.  Deep in the heart of the many layers the years had made in the grain of my being, was the core of the tree called me.  That core was selfish pride.

Luke 6:43 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 44 A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thorn bushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. 45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

I was often frustrated because I really wanted great things to come from my life.  I really did!  But try as I might, the good was always tainted by what lay at the core.  Good doesn’t go so far when it is poisoned by pride.

I really only wanted to do good, so that I’d look good.  I wanted big, lush, colorful leaves and I didn’t really care what kind of fruit it brought because as long as I looked good, I didn’t care if it blessed anyone but me.

I had my own fruit, my reward, my recognition, my ego.

After a whole lot of years, I figured out that I was sick.  I was withering, starving to death in the middle of a lot of beautiful trees that I despised because I thought I should be beautiful, too.

But my fruit was starving me.  Although it was large, there was no substance.

After all, pride cannot be sated.  No matter how much I fed it, it wasn’t enough.

I had to get to the heart of the matter.  Did I want to shrivel up and die or did I want to change the very heart of myself?

I had to admit that I could handle the whole shriveling up and dying all by myself.  But, changing my heart, that had to happen with a whole lot of help.  When I look upon myself I tend to only see me.  I know that I’m not the solution to the problem.

So, I gave in to God.  Everything changed.  My heart changed and I became more than just a stick with a bunch of pretty leaves pasted on it.  I became a good tree.  I budded, bloomed, leafed out and bore good fruit.  It was amazing.  I got so much more than I asked for.

I guess that what I am here to say to you today is, if you are really unhappy with the way your tree looks, don’t be afraid to let God get to work on it.  There are many times of painful pruning, cutting and even complete transformation but you will never again be the same.

Each day, I give up on parts of me that will never bear fruit and do my best to bring them out into the light and let God do what he wills to them.  What used to strike quite a bit of fear into me now thrills me.

I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree. — Joyce Kilmer