… blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
–Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV ®)
“Open your heart and allow the Spirit to move you,” the facilitator instructed. “Allow Him to direct you to a place where you can receive Him openly.” Excited and expectant, I anticipated the time I’d be spending alone with God, but I didn’t relish the idea of sitting outside behind the retreat facility for three hours, bundled in a heavy coat and long johns against the subfreezing temperatures. I’m cold natured, and spending any time outdoors when the temperature is below 65 degrees is, well, uncomfortable. Go ahead, call me a weenie, but I made my peace with the reality of my thin blood long ago. That’s why I left upstate New York for southern California after I graduated from college. Brr! But at least this morning the sun was shining, fresh and renewed after a long, restless night. I sipped my coffee. Not a breath of wind stirred the mirror-still surface of the huge lake behind the lodge.
I tucked the white three-ring binder under one arm, threw the chair bag over the other, and opened my heart to the urging of the Spirit. With only a rustle of nylon and the rattle of aluminum-framed chairs, twenty men fanned out from the facility’s back porch and headed toward the lake shore. I beelined toward the water’s edge and unfolded my chair in the open lawn twenty feet from the shoreline. I set down my cup of coffee and opened my notebook.
How am I going to write like this? I thought, holding my pen in a thick glove more suited for a day of snowmobiling in Colorado than sitting on the bank of Lake Fork in east Texas. Nonetheless, I uncapped the pen, wiped my dripping nose on the back of my glove, and began to write. An hour later, shivering from both the cold and excitement, I finished.
As I closed the binder, I looked up, and for the first time that morning I really noticed where the Spirit had planted me. In front of my chair rose a tall, thin tree, obviously dead, the bleached remains of its fallen limbs poking out of its scrawny trunk. Around the base lay branches scattered in the grass. Thirty feet beyond the dead tree, closer to the lake, stood another tree. This one looked alive but distressed, with a thicker trunk and a fuller crown filled with leafless twigs. And at the edge of the reservoir, past the second tree, rose a third tree, healthy, strong, standing on the bank with eyes closed and branches outstretched in worship of its Creator.
This first tree, whispered the Spirit, bringing my attention back to the remains standing in front of me like a sad utility pole, is a reflection of how you were. As I studied the tree I realized it was a picture of what a person becomes when pride and self-sufficiency take over—he becomes withered, diseased, spiritually starved, eventually dying as his roots give up striving to obtain nourishment from the rocky soil of worldliness. I thought about the fear and frustration that had ebbed and flowed over me during the past three decades, hollowing me out like a spiritual cancer. I reflected on the disillusionment that had blinded me and the depression that had smothered me as I struggled mightily with the disconnect between reality and my purpose—the very definition of who I am, who God made me to be.
The second tree, said the Spirit, is you now. Alive but having suffered, still suffering, still clinging to the world but stretching toward the Truth. This tree embodied hope and renewal, but its roots were still resolutely anchored in the tenuous soil of the flesh. I pondered what had transpired the evening before, the thirty minutes of repentance and confession, the shedding of the desiccated leaves of past unforgiveness, anger and hopelessness until I finally accepted the truth of who I am. Though I’d suffered much, my bare branches now reached up toward the Source of all life rather than grasping at the lies perpetrated by the world’s expectations and false definitions.
The third tree, whispered the Spirit, is who you will become. As I took in this robust specimen standing confidently on the shore, I realized its roots stretched into the lake, an endless source of sustenance for both times of drought and abundance. Though it wore the cloak of winter’s dormancy, this third tree bore its full potential with quiet steadfastness, completely alive in its fulfillment of what God had made it to be, a reflection of His glory. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, /” it seemed to say, “in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15 NIV®). Yes, quietness and trust, stillness and confidence, qualities I had not yet completely embraced as my wants and God’s will conflicted with the “shoulds” of the world’s empty promises, something I’d have to learn to relinquish.
After three hours of cold soaking in the morning stillness, one of the facilitators whistled for us to return to the lodge to warm up and share our stories. I folded my chair and stuffed it in its bag, then gathered up my three-ring binder, pen and empty coffee cup. As I joined the other men making their way toward the back porch, I thought about the words of King David:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
-Psalm 1:1-3 NIV®
As I walked through the glass doors into the warm lodge, I took one last look at those three trees, excited to share the lesson the Spirit had revealed to me in those moments of shivery contemplation. Indeed, I did get to share, as many of the men did, and now, years later, we men—the trees God planted by streams of Living Water and nurtured by His mighty hand—continue to become, yielding abundant fruit, all in due season.
Copyright © 2015 David C Hughes