But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love. –Psalm 52:8, NLT
Did you see something beautiful today?
A tree stands just outside my apartment. It’s actually rooted on the property of the grocery store next door, but it bends its branches over our fence and our birds sit on its limbs and chase each other around its circumference and cast a wary eye on the stray cats below.
When I first moved in, I enjoyed the wealth of a second tree right outside my apartment window. It was beautiful and lush and healthy, but management cut it down because apparently it was leaning too much toward the building. It wasn’t tall enough to be a hazard—it never would’ve reached my apartment if it had fallen over—but they cut it down anyway.
I was angry. I was hurt for the poor tree and angry for myself, for the loss of it.
Why do we accept such pitiful excuses to destroy?
But when that tree came down, I started giving thanks for the tree next door because it was the only one I could still see straight out my window. A couple of the A/C units on the rooftops next door are noisy, and the tree helps block the noise. And the tree is beautiful when the wind blows or when the birds play in the morning light. When the apartment walls close in, the tree reminds me I’m not an extension of some building.
The odd thing about this tree is, it’s half dead. It must’ve been struck by lightning or suffered other damage when it was younger, so now when the storms come and the wind blows, only half of the tree sways with each gust. The dead half stands stiff and immobile; even in the strongest winds it just shudders a bit. When rain pelts down, leaves on the living portion dance and sway; the dead half just gets wet.
You would think by looking that the dead half of the tree is the strongest part. After all, it doesn’t give in to the demands of the wind. It seems powerful and stable.
But from what I understand, the dead part is ultimately the most fragile. Because no sap moves through the branches, they are slowly rotting from the inside out. The living half—the part that looks so weak, that sways and bobs with every breath of wind—that is actually the strongest part of the tree. It gives when pressed. It takes in life and moisture; it breathes out oxygen. It reaches for the sky, and birds nest in its branches.
It is life that imparts strength.
Someday, the dead part of the tree will collapse and fall. Sometimes when that happens, the separation is so violent it kills the rest of the tree. If the grocery store folks were wise, they would have the dead part trimmed away so as not to lose the whole tree. But I’m glad they haven’t. I like the half-dead tree.
It reminds me of my heart.
Sometimes I want to deaden my heart to pain. The news inundates us with anguish—children are hurt, peace treaties broken, integrity compromised, love abandoned for the sake of money—and it is just too much to take in. And each of us suffers our own pain: the daily challenges, the personal losses, the individual crises that never leave our lips, much less make the evening news. Many times I’ve wanted to build a wall around my heart to keep myself safe, to cut off the flow of love; many times I’ve tried.
But I look out my window and see the tree.
And I realize that often what looks like strength in the eyes of the world is simply the aftermath of damage. It is injury never healed that frequently causes the pain we see. And ultimately that damage, if not trimmed away to make way for new growth, if not healed, can destroy what life remains.
It is life—not death—that imparts strength. Maybe this is why Jesus told us that we must stay attached to Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 5:15, NIV) Apart from Him, I am a dead branch. I may seem strong, but I bring no life. Apart from Him, I am unhealed, useless, good only for starting fires. Connected to Him, I am healed. Life and love flow through me; and God willing, I bear fruit.
The tree reminds, it is Jesus who gives life. It is His love that keeps me green and growing. And I realize that just maybe, if I let go of my fear, I might find it’s fun to sway in the wind.