STRENGTH (3/10, Blessing of the Trees)

Are you a tree hugger? Have you ever wrapped your arms partway around a thick trunk and laid your cheek against its rough bark? If you have, you may have been amazed at how rock hard and immovable it seems and wondered what makes a tree so strong.

STRENGTH

I wrapped my arms around dense wood

and received a flow of fortitude and steadfastness

from the solid stillness of sturdy trunk

– from The Blessing of the Trees

In the Bible, a powerful symbol of strength are the cedars of Lebanon. These ancient trees, some of which are between 1,000 – 2,000 years old, can grow as tall as a 13 stories, and its trunk can reach a diameter of 8 feet. Down through history, the wood of this tree has been prized for ship building, and Solomon, the richest king of Israel’s golden age, imported cedar logs from Lebanon with which to build the temple.

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.”

Psalm 92:12-13, NIV

What is it that makes a tree so strong? Surely it has to do with a perfect mix of moisture and sunlight, perhaps some tender loving care from a gardener who fertilizes and mulches around it? Surprisingly, such attentive care does not make a strong tree without another factor: stress. Specifically, a tree needs to be buffeted by strong winds in order to become strong enough to live a long and healthy life.

*** “Cedars of God” in Lebanon. Photo by By Jerzy Strzelecki ***

Remember the Biosphere 2, the completely enclosed facility used to study the earth’s ecosystems? They planted many trees, which grew faster than normal, but ended up collapsing before they could reach maturity. Scientists discovered that the reason these trees could not thrive was because within the biosphere’s enclosure, there was no wind. A tree in a natural environment, constantly having to withstand the assault of the wind, copes by growing a stronger kind of wood than it would otherwise. Appropriately, it’s called stress wood.

It gives one pause, doesn’t it? What is the source of a person’s strength and resilience? It certainly isn’t having a perfect, comfortable, untroubled life. On the contrary, have you ever witnessed “helicopter” parents who constantly intervene in their children’s lives, trying to smooth the path in front of them? I think of the recent college admissions scandals involving rich and famous parents who try to buy and cheat their children’s way into prestigious universities. Ironically, I suspect that their parents getting caught may end up doing those young people more good than if they had gotten away with it. Perhaps the suffering of embarrassment and humiliation, the loss of that sense of privilege and entitlement, will produce greater toughness, resourcefulness and resiliency for those young people than if they had just floated on the tide of their good fortune.

There’s a song I love by Carrie Newcomer, “You Can Do This Hard Thing.” Take a couple of minutes to enjoy listening to it. What does it bring up for you? What have been the places of suffering in your life? Of stress? Of hardship? Have you been through things so difficult that, looking back, you can say, “If I could get through that, then I can get through this”? Can you look back and recognize the courage and tenacity that it took to get up every morning and face that Hard Thing? Can you receive from that an appreciation of the strength that God has built into you, and with that a hope and assurance for the future? For in the end, with God . . .

“All shall be well
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.”

– Julian of Norwich

Next post: DEEP ROOTS (4/10, Blessing of the Trees)

%d bloggers like this: