Wisdom from the Woods
One interesting fact about me is that I love the woods (or as we call it in Iowa, timber). I love learning about trees, taking pictures throughout all the seasons, and sitting still in a tree stand to observe wildlife. Perhaps that’s why green is my favorite color.
Often as I sit quietly in the woods praising God for his beauty, or as I read books by others with a love of trees, I see spiritual lessons which apply to our own lives as followers of Jesus. For a long time I’ve wanted to record these lessons, and this blog series, Wisdom from the Woods, is going to be my attempt to share with you some of the amazing lessons God has taught me through my understanding of the woods.
We’ve all heard the importance roots have to a tree. In school, we were taught how big the tree roots are under the ground, how the roots hold the tree in place in wind storms, and how they pull water and nourishment up to the tree trunk, branches, and leaves from the ground to allow it to grow,
But in good American fashion, we probably all think of tree roots in terms of an individual tree. Each tree has its own roots. And those roots help that one tree. Big trees have big roots and small trees have small roots. Living trees have living roots and when you cut down a tree you kill the tree, and in time, it’s roots. Or so we think…
Something we typically fail to reflect on is that in the woods, where trees are crowded together, all their roots extend into one another’s space, overlapping and becoming interconnected. No tree really has its own root system, but becomes a part of a much larger shared root system under the ground.
As trees become rooted together, the trees gain some incredible advantages over the single maple tree you have planted all alone in your front yard.
- Increased Stability – High winds put tremendous pressure on a trees roots to stay grounded and not be ripped out of the earth. Often when storms rip through a community, it’s the solo trees which are knocked over, unable to withstand the wind pushing against the leaves and the branches. But when a tree’s roots are intertwined with others, the stabilizing effect is multiplied. Not only do the cluster of the crowns of the trees reduce the force of the wind on any given tree, but the roots increase their staying power.
- Shared Nourishment – In Germany a 5 foot wide tree stump was discovered which had been cut down between 400-500 years ago, yet it was still producing chlorophyll – proof that the stump, which had no way to photosynthesize sunlight, was still alive. How is this even possible? Because the shared root system of multiple trees around has allowed the nourishment created in the healthy living trees to feed this old stump which was unable to feed itself.
- Warning Communication – This is the most fascinating of the tree facts I’ve recently learned, but I bet you didn’t know that trees actually send super-slow electrical impulses through their root system to communicate distress to one another. This shared communication network helps young trees know to prepare for the draught the older trees perceive to be coming. If one tree senses danger, it responds in a way that allows all the other connected trees know to prepare.
Note: If these facts fascinate you as much as they do me, you can read more here.
The Value of Being Rooted Together in a Church
Now as we look at the benefits trees receive from having their roots intertwined with one another in the woods rather than living a solitary life in your front yard, I think the spiritual parallels are striking. As followers of Jesus we need to be rooted together for:
- Strength – Life is hard and if you aren’t currently facing a storm in life, you know one will be coming… soon. Surviving those challenging times, those crises of faith alone is not only dangerous, but foolish. Too often Christians abandon their faith (are uprooted from the ground) because they aren’t strong enough on their own to withstand the challenges of life. So they give up on God. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you are rooted with other Christians, your lack of faith and your doubts can be buttressed by the faith of others encouraging you and standing in the gap in prayer for you. The faith of others can give you strength when you have run out!
- Support – Following Jesus requires that we be taking in nourishment so we can grow in our faith. Jesus calls himself the bread of life and tells his followers to come and eat. But there are times in life when we experience a spiritual drought. Sometimes it is called the dark night of the soul. It’s those moments in life where Jesus feels distant or we wonder where God is. Bible reading becomes dry and our prayers feel like they are falling on deaf ears. We lose our spiritual vitality and don’t know what to do. And in these moments, we must rely on those around us to support, encourage, and nourish our tired souls.
- Wisdom – Our church is full of people who have experienced a lot of life, who have gone through the ups and downs and know how to survive through it all. They have wisdom and warnings to share with those who are younger which can save them lot of pain. But apart from intergenerational connections, lessons learned from the past will never be leveraged to protect others in the future.
Yes, you can try to be a solo Christian living alone, keeping other Christians at arm’s length, but do so at your own risk. When the storms of life or the spiritual draught come, and they will, you will be on your own to persevere. When life cuts you down to size, nobody will be there to nourish you in your brokenness. And you will have to learn all your lessons the hard way without anyone warning you from past experiences.
So yes, you can try growing in your faith all alone, but why? The advantages of taking time to grow deep roots within a community of faith who will love, protect, nourish, and warn you are too great to live without!