Lessons From the Trees

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Many years ago, a number of acorns and maple seeds found their way onto a plain in southwest Michigan. They sprouted and set their roots into the ground. Water and sunshine from the heavens tended them; they needed nothing else. Over time, many of them have disappeared, but the ones that remain, the faithful, are now sturdy 60- or 70-foot-tall trees that surround our home.

We are blessed by their shade in summer, their vivid colors in autumn, and their protection from the wind year round. The winds are often gentle; they rustle the leaves and bring a slight sway to the sturdy trunks.

That bending and swaying in the wind has a strengthening effect on the trees. Whereas trees held up by stakes and supports can potentially grow weaker, those that are left to “fend for themselves” against gentle and moderate winds grow stronger as their roots grow deeper.

Like those trees, my faith was planted by the seeds placed by my ancestors. It grew over time under the watchful eye of teachers, friends and family, and the Light filtering down from above. Even though my faith, and that of others I know, can be strong like the trees and surround us, at times we are tried and tested through difficulties and doubts.  Like a gentle wind, the Holy Spirit nudges us to move and bend. We lean into questions that can solidify our beliefs. We grow into our understanding just as a tree’s bark slowly expands around it’s ever-widening girth. 

But I remember a late winter windstorm that was not so gentle. Sustained winds at 55-60 miles per hour brought a continuous blast that not only looked intimidating, but sounded like a freight train hurtling through our back yard for several hours straight. The trees tossed and turned wildly under the violent barrage.

But they stood strong. As far as I could tell, not one broke.

Had this windstorm come during another season, say summer or fall, I’m fairly certain it would have brought down some of those staunch oaks and resolute maples. They would have snapped or been uprooted, not able to withstand such a penetrating force.

So why not this time, in this season of the trees’ lives? And by the same token, why do some challenges in life rock our faith and break us, while others make our faith grow stronger?

When we face a crisis or difficulty in our lives, we tend to do one of two things. We turn to God for our comfort and strength, or we turn away. We pray and seek his guidance, or we look inward and take control of the situation ourselves. How can we plant ourselves in readiness to face these challenges not on our own strength but by trusting the One who created us? What lessons can we learn from the trees?

First, we need deep faith roots. Although that late-winter blast was powerful, it couldn’t bring down the trees whose roots were firmly established. On the other hand, roots that have been cut, neglected, or deprived of water and nourishment will become weak, and the trees will topple.

In the same way, our faith roots must run deep. We can strengthen them through worship, prayer, Bible reading and study, and fellowship with other believers. When we tend them, our roots will hold strong and we will remember to turn to God in times of difficulty.

Second, we must let go of the burdens of this world. The bare trees in our woods that late winter day stood strong despite 60-mph winds because the wind had nothing to grasp onto to bring them down. Without any leaves, even under intense pressure, the wind could blow through the trees. At other times of year when the trees are laden with the additional burden of heavy leaves (or for that matter, ice or snow), we often find snapped-off branches and fallen trees, their large trunks splintered like toothpicks.

The same is true in our spiritual lives. When we hang onto the weight of this world and become consumed by earthly treasures, power, or success, we are more likely to break when things don’t go our way and our laid-up treasure begins to crumble. Family struggles, relationship issues, unemployment, health problems, and financial woes; all of these are potential faith-breakers if we hang on too tightly to the things of this world. 

Finally, we will stand firm through difficult times when we turn away from sin and ask God’s forgiveness. The trees that snap in half during a storm often show evidence of weakness, rot, or insect damage in the heart of the fallen tree. As we investigate the wreckage, we find obvious decay that lay hidden before the strong winds blew.

Our spiritual lives are like the trunks of those trees. When we allow sins—pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, or sloth (or any of their relatives)—to rot or infest our lives, we are more likely to fall prey to events that can rock our faith. Confessing our sins will begin the healing process that is needed to endure the struggles that surround us. When the strong winds of adversity blow our way, we can trust in the God who forgives and heals, to see us through.

Like the healthy trees, reaching toward heaven, our faith will thrive and grow if we allow our roots to sink deep into the soil of God’s word and surround them with Christian fellowship, prayer, and worship. As the gentle winds of the Holy Spirit cause our hearts to bend and sway toward God, our faith will grow stronger and more resilient.

Casting off the cares of the world that burden us, we will stand strong in the face of life’s stormy gales, knowing our treasure is not of this world. Confessing the sins that rot us from the inside out, we will be forgiven by the one who was nailed, for our sakes, to a tree. He gave his life so that we could live, growing ever closer to him.

Like the towering oak and sturdy maple, let us reach our hands toward heaven in praise of the One who gives us life and sustains us through the storms!

You will go out in joy
     and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
     will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
     will clap their hands. (Is. 55:12, NIV)

About the Author

Linda L. Hanstra writes about faith, empty-nesting, and other topics at lindahanstra.com. She works as a Speech-Language Pathologist in Edwardsburg, Mich. She and her husband, Tom, attend Church of the Savior CRC in South Bend, Ind.

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