Life, Faith, and Growing Trees
by Kim Reisman
World Methodist Evangelism
Many of you know that I love gardening. I just love working with my hands in the dirt. I’ve written about that passion before. Annuals are the kind of flowers that you need to replant every year and they are crucial to my garden. Unfortunately, with the heat wave that has plagued my part of the world, they are looking somewhat puny. But that doesn’t diminish my love of pots of bright colored geraniums, petunias, daisies, and all kinds of other wonderful flowers.
Annuals allow me to experience the fruit of my labor immediately, which is always very satisfying – especially after months of dreary winter. If I’m honest though, as much as I love annuals and the instant gratification of having pots of beautiful blooms, perennials give me a deep sense of fulfillment. They have lasting beauty because they are the flowers that return year after year.
Perennials require patience. I can’t think of a better way to spend a crisp, cool, autumn day in Indiana than planting tulip and daffodil bulbs in my yard; not because I can see the results of my labor at the end of the day, but because I am filled with excitement and anticipation about what beauty will burst forth in the spring.
Gardens aren’t created with a single afternoon of work, despite the beauty of a solitary pot of flowers. They require patience. However, gardeners do see the results of their labor. Their patience is necessary for only a few months at a time and then they are rewarded with the beauty of flowers season after season.
I like to think that I’m a patient gardener; but then I think of the arborist. Where I can be rewarded after a single season, the arborist must often wait much longer. Arborists are experts in growing and caring for trees. Trees require much more than a few months of patience. Arborists know they are in for the long haul. In fact, those who plant trees may never be the ones to enjoy the beauty of their maturity at all.
In 1973, my family moved to Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Back then it was a small town outside of Nashville and because our house was in a new subdivision, the only mature trees were on the edge of the backyard – so my father planted small saplings along the driveway and around the house. I have fond memories of one particular tree right outside the window by our kitchen table. Early one spring we had an unexpected snowfall and as we sat at the kitchen table, we looked out to see five bright red cardinals sitting in that tiny, snow-covered tree. The memory of all those cardinals in that tree is one I’ve joyfully shared with my husband and children.
Years later, but while my children were still young, we returned to Mt. Juliet, and I was excited to show my family the house. We were almost unable to find it because I was looking for a house surrounded by wide-open space. When we finally realized that we were in front of the driveway, I was surprised to see a wonderful home nestled in the shade of magnificent, tall trees.
We turned in the driveway and drove under the overarching branches of the trees on either side. We were able to walk around the yard and I was excited to show my family the tree that had held the five cardinals. When I pointed it out, my children were perplexed. How could you possibly see five cardinals from the window? All you can see is the trunk! I looked at the tree and then at the window and realized they were right. It was truly a splendid tree, towering over the roof of the house, but it was clearly impossible to see the branches from the window.
As I explained that their Pop had planted this tree and all the others that surrounded the house, and that when it had held the five cardinals it was only about seven feet tall, I realized the wonderful gift my father had given. He had planted trees knowing full well that he would probably not see them in their fullest glory. Yet he planted them, nonetheless. And other people were now benefiting from their shade and beauty, people we would never know and who would never know the man who had given them such a gift.
Sometimes following in the Jesus way is like being a gardener filling pots with annuals. We experience the immediate joy that comes when we recognize the height and depth and width and breadth of God’s love for us. Our faith blooms with beauty, bringing color and life to the world around us. Other times, though, it can be more like planting perennials. The weather is cool, but we dig anyway. God can seem silent and far away, but we pray anyway, we trust anyway. We place the bulb in the ground with confident hope, despite the challenge of wind or dreary skies. We know we must wait; we know there are likely to be harsh days before we see any sign of life. And yet we’re hopeful, because we know spring will come eventually and we will experience the joy of life and color and beauty once more.
Then there are times when the life of faith can feel much more like being an arborist. Arborists know they may not see the full results of their labor, but they know what they are working for is of great significance and is worth their effort now. Following Jesus can be like that. Offering forgiveness, working for reconciliation in our personal relationships and in our communities, loving our neighbor, sharing our experience of faith – we may not see the result of our labor, but these things are of great significance and worth our effort now.
If we are to be Christ followers for all the seasons of our life – not just a blast of color that fades with the onset of cold – we must be confident of a deep and abiding truth: God’s goodness and wholeness will prevail over the violence and brokenness of our world. We need not be in a hurry. Rather, we are to be faithful to the Jesus way, not because it provides an annual show of color, or even consistent perennial beauty, but because it is the way in which God will ultimately heal and redeem all of creation.
In the meantime, we plant seeds of love and forgiveness, season after season, experiencing not only the joy of immediate color and or hope of spring, but the confidence of the sapling, that though it seems fragile now, will one day be a mighty tree.