The Tree and the Gardener

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.

It was late spring the first time we saw the tree. All bones and boughs and awkward bends, it stood out for its stark barrenness in a garden lush with beauty. It cowered among the garden’s newly blooming flowers and green-swept trees blushing with leaves, as leafless as the dead of winter.

My husband and I discussed the tree. How out of place this broken tree was, how odd that the owners of the garden—known for their skill—hadn’t removed it. It seemed almost a disservice to their handiwork, a marring of their reputation to have left this hollow shell where it stood. 

And then it hit us: we knew the prowess of the gardeners who tended this garden. Unlike our own shaggy garden at home, which leaves much to be desired—such as the mostly dead old bush in front of our house that we’ve plaintively attempted to ignore for the past year—the skill of these gardeners was pristine. For years, their reputations had repeatedly been proven all throughout this garden, so much so that there was absolutely no way they would have let stand such a broken, dead tree.

Ergo, things must not be as they appeared. We realized that despite every indication, this tree must not be truly dead. Perhaps, my husband and I mused, the tree was not native to our part of Canada; perhaps it was the true definition of a late bloomer. Based on the skill and reputation of the gardener, even when all we could see was barrenness, we could trust against the odds that something special was yet to come.

Sure enough, months later, in the heart of summer, we returned to that same garden. This time, the tree was ablaze in glory. Rich, green leaves adorned its jutting boughs, accentuating the uniqueness of their jagged shape, like a masterpiece painted by a grand artist. This tree was certainly not dead: it was the star of the garden.

And I realized just how much this resembles my life—and perhaps life in general.

If you looked at my life right now from the outside, you might not notice a lot of growth. I’ve been holding on through a year of extreme grief, with the deaths of two of my loved ones. It’s been a year of deep stress as I’ve shepherded my two young adult kids (who need extra care and support because of diverse developmental challenges) through some difficult challenges including the terminal illness of another close family member. It’s been a year like no other.

In a year that has wrought a worldwide pandemic, I wonder if you too feel the same way I do.

If so, I would like to encourage you that appearances are very often deceiving. Like the tree in the garden, we are pruned and cared for and so deeply loved by a master gardener. The Master Gardener, in fact. A gardener who knows what we need and who might be working in us and through us beneath the surface, so that when the right time again comes, we will burst forth in a season of new growth more visible than perhaps can now be seen.

I’ve learned that sometimes it is in the down seasons and in the quietness of our hearts that the Spirit comes to us. One of my favourite sayings, one that I heard long ago during a sermon when I was a child, is, “We have yet to see what God has yet to do.”  And it is true.

Now, once again, the leaves of the tree in the garden are falling, as autumn has settled like a blanket over my corner of the earth, Soon, the winter snow will come, and once again the tree will take on its barren, quieted appearance. But I now know the truth.

We cannot judge next season’s splendor by this season’s appearance.

Never forget that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Phil. 1:6, NLT).

Our gardener is not dismayed by the events of this year. He is working behind the scenes so that “at the right time, I, the LORD, will make it happen” (Isaiah 60:22, NLT).

About the Author

Jenna C. Hoff is a freelance writer and editor in Edmonton, Alta. She is a member of Inglewood Christian Reformed Church.

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