Trees. I adore trees. My earliest memory of prayer was about a tree...a towering White Pine in the backyard of my childhood home, to be specific. To the mind of a five year old girl, it stood at least twenty stories high...with huge deadly branches and pine cone missiles. Every night for months (or perhaps years), I prayed that Jesus would keep that big scary tree from squishing my house. I also prayed that skunks wouldn’t get under my bed. I’m happy to report, that both prayers were answered. After I recovered from the fear of impending squishedness, trees quickly became my good friends. I took to climbing them...any limb in jumping distance became a personal challenge. Of course, sometimes I lost the challenge; I still have a big lump under my upper lip that proves some trees are mightier than adolescent tomboys. Creation was ripe with adventure...and trees were my childhood playmates. Fallen trees provided passage over streams, strong branches became the infrastructure of elaborate forts, snow covered pine branches made perfect hiding places, and apple trees dropped piles of rotten grenades. And even though adulthood has dulled the edges of my adoration...trees have always remained high on my list of personal delights.
That’s why my absolute favorite characters in J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings are the Ents. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to let my inner geek show for a moment. Ents were giant creatures created to guard the forests against destruction in Middle Earth. They closely resembled the trees that they were protecting…tall, strong, bark-like skin, arms like branches and deep penetrating eyes. They were considered very patient, very cautious “shepherds of the trees”, with a sense of time suited more for creation than mortality. One of my favorite lines from the oldest Ent, Treebeard, is “we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”
In the second volume of LOTR (The Two Towers), the Ents got pissed off at a really bad guy and destroyed his tower, Isengard. They save the day. I clap every time I watch the movie. Seriously, there’s just something deep in my soul that totally loves the picture of trees as super heroes. That’s why, to this day, when I find myself standing under a tall, grizzled oak tree…I’ll pat the bark and whisper, “I know you can hear me.” Which I’m pretty sure they can, by the way. In the Psalms trees sing for joy. In Isaiah they clap their hands. And in Romans…all of creation groans as it waits for the return of the King. So, I don’t think it’s merely a flight of fancy from a girl with an over-active imagination. No way…one day I’m pretty sure I will have a conversation with Treebeard. I’m going to ride on his shoulder like a Hobbit. We’re going to be besties.
In the last few months, I have watched the trees in my yard struggling to survive a Missouri drought. Huge limbs are now brittle and dying. The bushes are all turning a burnished orange color. And the Magnolia tree has shed hundreds of dead leaves that scatter across our brown lawn like little miniature carcasses. In the last few weeks, as I’ve stood outside for what feels like hours…waiting for my passive aggressive dog to go pee, I often find myself staring at the trees, feeling a strange kinship to their plight. I too feel the effects of my own personal drought.
This morning the weather was actually tolerable, so I decided to attend the Church of the Back Porch in my mismatched pink snowflake pajamas. I made it about 20 minutes of staring at the skeletal remains of a Redbud tree before I was outside…still in my pjs…inexplicably desperate to rid my yard of the corpses of my fallen childhood playmates. After furiously raking and sweeping for about 20 minutes, I noticed a huge dying limb that looked like it was scraping the ground in agony. Because I couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore...I wrapped both hands around it and pulled. I shouldn’t have had the strength to remove that limb. It was huge. But with very little effort and a huge cracking sound…it fell to the earth. I stood there for a while...wearing silly pink snowflakes…staring at that limb. The more I stared…the more it started to look like an arm. Feeling a strange sense of remorse, I looked up at the Redbud tree, patted the bark and said silently…”I’m sorry, old friend.”
These days…as a 35 year old single woman whose daily highlights include a can of soup, Wheel of Fortune, and an 8:30pm bedtime…I think a lot about abundant life, or the lack thereof. In my quest for knowledge, I even Googled it. Good news, people…abundant life has its own Wiki page. Did you also know there are hundreds upon hundreds of churches that have “abundant life” in their names? But I’d bet my left butt cheek that there are faithful parishioners who attend their Abundant Life Church every Sunday…and yet still don’t have a clue what it is. Oh sure, they’d probably be able to give a lovely explanation of what life looks like when it’s lived abundantly, but that would be like asking a scientist why the sky is blue. Yes, yes, it has to do with the reflection of light, but that answer leaves me a little disappointed. A glorious canvas of blue should carry a bit more romance...physics just seems to tarnish the truth of its splendor.
John 10:10 says, “...I came that they may have life and live it abundantly.”
I think if I stood still long enough, passersbys may mistake me for one of the fragile, dying trees in my yard. Some days, it even feels like a gentle tug could easily rip off one of my limbs. I used to hear from God a lot. I was daily in His word. His truth was far more real to me than my next breath. But now my life is surrounded by a great void of silence. Yes, the Father sent His only Son to give me life…but, if I don’t hear from Him…how can I live it abundantly?
One of my absolute favorite quotes of all time is from Beth Moore. She says, “sometimes we don't realize how real God is until we've experienced the awesomeness of His answerless presence. He knows that what we crave far more than explanations are the unshakeable conviction that He is utterly, supremely God."
That’s the thing…because I’ve stood at the foot of the Throne, the silence doesn’t throw me into fits of panic. In fact, the quiet has come with a deep, wordless resolve that God is very near. Would I prefer to go back to the place where I hear His voice and feel His presence? Yes. Absolutely. Without a moment’s hesitation…yes. But it’s in this place that I’ve truly learned what life means when it’s lived in abundance. I think the answer lies with my old friends…the trees.
“But blessed is the woman who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. She will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out her roots by the stream. She does not fear when heat comes; her leaves are always green. She has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17: 7-8
I don’t think abundant life is a sort of spiritual high. I don’t think the answer lies in the perfect combination of church attendance, service, Bible study, or prayer. No, a tree that bears fruit is really just being a tree… doing what it was created to do. Whether it’s a season of abundance or time of drought…a tree fulfills its divine purpose simply by living. For me, that means living without fear or anxiety in His answerless presence.
So, despite a fragile body and an 8:30 bedtime, my roots are still planted in the River of Life. My limbs draw strength from the confidence of my Salvation. For I am a tree…living life abundantly. Because regardless of the silence, I still stand in the conviction that even in the face of drought, God is still utterly, supremely God.
As the wise Treebeard once said…anything worth saying takes a long time to say. My solitude has taught me, that like the Ents…Abba’s timing is more suited for His creation than my humanity. I guess that means when I can’t hear Him, He’s only pausing between sentences…