Like a Tree Beside Still Waters

Article by Make The Days Count Contributor Jennifer Snelling


I do not enjoy the changing seasons like other people in the Midwest.  I do appreciate the winter, though.  I appreciate the way the earth takes time to rest, the colors change, and the leaves are shed away to reveal scenes we might not be able to observe otherwise. 


I do enjoy those scenes – the banks of a creek in a valley, still covered in snow, shielded from the warmth of the sun by the hills on each side, and the black silhouettes of naked trees against the backdrop of earth meeting sky, with the white-barked birches sprinkled throughout.


In the winter, those dormant trees reveal their stories.  Their bare branches and sticks and their position in relation to their surroundings show us their past. 


It is quite a lot easier to tell where a building once stood, the winds and conditions they have endured, or where they’ve been trimmed back to make way for something else.  Twigs poke defiantly out of the trimmed side of an oak, threatening to encroach upon the power-lines once again.  Four twisted old trees sit in a square in the middle of a rolling field, the last remnants of an old farmyard.  A tall tree leans heavily to once side, it’s branches appearing to fight not to grow in the same direction, a testament to the winds they’ve endured.


These trees make me think of one of my grandmother’s mottos – her sage advice during the trials of life.  “Be like a tree,” she says, referencing Jeremiah 17:8, and the spiritual song, which says, “Like a tree beside the still waters, I will not be moved.”


I have wondered in the past if trees are happy growing where they’re planted.  It doesn’t seem they have much of a choice. 


These days, I would venture to guess that trees make the most of whatever situation they end up in.  They put down roots and reach for the sky.  The winds of change and adversity blow them, twist their branches, and break them, and they still reach for the sky.  People come along to dig at their heels, cut them down to size, get under their skin, and yet they stand firm and continue to grow and stretch.  In most cases, despite all their challenges and through all their struggles, these trees not only continue to grow, they also continue to be fruitful.


I never understood exactly what my grandmother’s motto or the corresponding Bible verse meant until I took the time to stop and contemplate the trees.  “Be like a tree.”  Strangely enough, when I have heard her offer this advice she was not advising someone to “stand firm” but rather to stand quietly and peacefully. 


She was not counseling them to grow against the wind, or stand in defiance of an uncontrollable situation, but to bend in it with serenity.  As the prayer says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”


This is exactly as the trees do. 


They have no control over the environment around them, so they take root and bear the brunt of whatever life throws at them.  Trees do not let the attitudes of others or a less-than-pleasant experience keep them from continuing in their growth or doing their jobs – providing a spot of shade in the summer, a piece of fruit, a barrier against the wind and cold, a root to hold the rich soil in place, wood for the fire in winter, oxygen for the air, and even nutrients for the soil – all while continuing to grow taller, bud and flourish.


What a wonderful thing to be like a tree! 


So many times our hearts are broken, our good attitudes get trashed dumped on them, and people attempt to push us back so they can get ahead.  So many times unexpected events and turns of fortune threaten us and the way we live.  It so often happens that we find ourselves standing in a place where we don’t necessarily want to be, asking how we’ll ever be able to continue. 


In these times, it is important to realize that we can continue to grow and even flourish if we stick to our roots and always continue to stretch forward and reach for the sky.  Situations we are in may bend us and even break us, but isn’t it a delightful thought to know that we have the strength to stand firm even with serenity?


Not only that, but in being like those trees we are able to bring a patch of beauty to an otherwise bleak winter and carry the memory of the lessons learned to future generations.


“If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.”
-Hal Borland


“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship.  But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.”
-John Muir  


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Posted on 11 March, 2009 in Balance, Gratitude, Happiness
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