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I saw a strong little pine tree recently. It was brooding above the valley, lounging in the sun. It was warm, I was tired, and for some odd reason, I was standing there staring at a tree…

I’m navigating through a field of brush. “Field” is a generous term, though, as it’s really a minefield consisting of snow, mud, and callous dirt. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure and I, ever aware of my ability to faceplant, gingerly walk on dry ground. On said ground is a gawky-limbed teenage tree staring at me like trees do. Gritty soil stoops at Tree’s trunk and fiercely clings to my boots—coaxing crust into shoe crevices. Better than mud, I concede, and scoot the dirt back toward Tree. I kick the ground for good measure and prepare to move on. But, instead, I stop. I stop because I’m not just thinking about dirt clumps anymore.

My boots and I need that soil. We need that tree. They are two tactile reminders that life starts small before expansion—a thought that comforts me. Since my life resembles the pool of slush to my left, I quite like the possibility that this season is producing some pretty darn good soil for future growth. I need this. But I don’t know what else I need because, suddenly, I’m staring back at Tree with a newfound curiosity—noticing what I didn’t at first glance.

“Do you know you’re crooked?” I ask under my breath. Now that I’m trying to see the mountains and sky, Tree is in the exact wrong spot. He is bending just so, blocking my view almost entirely. If Tree understands the dilemma, though, he doesn’t let on. And I feel a surge of compassion because I didn’t know when I was leaning precariously either.

The Thing About Growing

That’s the thing about growing, though. Sometimes, we are so focused on growth that we neglect basic orienteering—which way are we growing? When growth is tangentially void of direction, we flail along just like this little tree.

A slight caveat… Sometimes, trees are slightly askew because they’re leaning toward the sun—a thirst for nourishment drives the trajectory. As Christians, we do that too. We choose the things of Christ despite the fallout we may receive for being “out of touch” with culture. We know that the things of this world don’t nourish us. Christ does.

So trees, and humans, often lean towards what we believe will fulfill us. But that’s not what Tree is doing. He’s lurching to the side at a concerning angle. In doing so, he’s showing me that he has significant root damage and/or, he has weathered some heavy storms.

We can only grow upright once we are anchored to a firmer foundation than our own.

“I understand,” I whisper into his sickly-looking needles. “You’ve done the best you can.”

And to an extent, I get it. The effort with which we fight for survival is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t, however, negate the ugly truth: the crooked posture must be corrected for long-term health and the correcting is not a pleasant experience.

From my basic knowledge of dendrology (the study of trees! Neat, huh!?), helping a tree grow straight can take more than a year, depending on the size of the tree. First, the crooked tree needs to be tied to a post—a guidepost, if you will. Over time, this post will straighten the trunk as the tree anchors itself to the post.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Growth is painful. Especially when we realize that, somewhere along the way, we started leaning. We bought into the wrong ideas about who we are, who God is, and what matters in this life. The part that none of us wants to hear, but that is true nonetheless, is that righting the wreckage is painful. Just like trees, you and I must tie ourselves to a new hope, and it feels at times like it may break us. I have personally wondered if I’d survive the process of reorienting. Fear had been my decade-long closest companion. I can’t do this. There’s no way I will be able to. In a way, I was right. Hannah couldn’t do it, but Jesus could—Jesus can. And He needs to; we can only grow upright once we are anchored to a firmer foundation than our own.

It’s easy to start seeing things sideways, though. It starts with a few minutes and a few choices. Life rolls along, and we tell ourselves we don’t rely on our crutch—we just bend because it’s different and of course we know which way is up. It’s impossible to forget which way is up, we tell ourselves. And it works. It works just fine until we can’t sleep, can’t speak, and can’t fathom how we became miserable and lonely.

I speak from experience. I speak as a woman who is trying to get used to the glare of sunlight after years of shade. I speak as a woman who is still learning what the heck it means to be a woman after years of shunning my own existence. My point? We’re all leaning, learning, and listening; one day at a time.

We have a God who is here in the process—growing pains and all.

We all lean toward the wrong things in this world. It’s kinda what humans do. It is a miraculous wonder that we have an anchor who fights for us, if only we will latch onto Him once more.

“Jesus,” I whisper as I stand under Mr. Tree. “I just want today to be over. Everything seems so hard right now and I feel so weak.” Sometimes, I know I’m not alone but I wish I were—so strong is the craving to shatter without, anyone, including the Almighty to witness my collapse. Yet, He is in the gentle breeze (1 Kings 19), so I am able to stand here with Him, weak and upright in His grace. So are you.

This is all getting a bit ethereal, so let’s get a little more concrete: I have chased a lot of things that aren’t God. If you’re human, so have you. But just like a tree battered by storms, we can anchor ourselves to firm truth. We have a God who is here in the process—growing pains and all. If you find yourself leaning away from the Son today, there is grace (trust me, I know). I also know that you’ll never find what you are looking for unless you are tethered to the Guidepost–the cross. 

I love it when God uses nature to remind me of His character and my identity in Him. I love it even more when I can see how He has been growing me since I re-anchored to Him. Tell me: How have you seen spiritual growth in the past year? In which area do you find yourself still leaning away from the Lord? I’m here in it with you, going from glory to glory.




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