Never Eat a Pine Tree ...
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers (Ps. 1:1-3).
Like a lot of you, my household chores for the last couple of weeks have involved raking and bagging leaves. Oh, it’s not as bad as it used to be when we lived in Illinois and our yard had something like 56 oak trees. Indeed, our current yard has but two deciduous trees in it and they are both young. However, my neighbors to the north have a big, beautiful tree in their backyard right next to our shared fence.
Thus, about a week ago, that tree … I think it is a maple … dropped all of its leaves in the course of two days.
It had turned to a gorgeous reddish, orange color and then boom, right after our first freeze, and the blast of northerly winds, it dropped all of them, many of which landed in my yard! Apparently, these trees protect themselves from the cold of winter by dropping their leaves, sucking all the water and sap into the insulated trunk of the tree and shutting down the growth process for the winter. Of course, that’s why creative northerners have learned to tap some of these trees to harvest the sap and produce sweet, maple syrup. At any rate, because of all of this, I spent a couple of afternoons using the blower/vac sucking up those leaves before they got wet, soggy, and a lot more difficult to remove.
The front yard is a lot easier. There, I only need to use a good old-fashioned leaf rake to gather up the pine needles that are shed from our large pine … I’m pretty sure it’s a ponderosa, but I’m not a botanist. Pines, of course, are known as evergreens because some of their leaves … aka, their needles … stay green throughout the winter. They still shed leaves … supposedly about a third … every year, but basically they deal with the cold in a different way than the deciduous tree. Instead of shedding all of their leaves and going into dormancy for the winter months, these trees have adapted with a different type of leaf (the needle) that keeps the water from freezing and, though scaled back, continues to use the reduced light of winter to do photosynthesis.
The long and short: some trees shut down during the hard time of winter and basically look to be dead, and others simply scale back during these hard times.
On the face of it, it might appear then that we all should be like evergreens … just scaled back in hard times and to “keep on plugging.” But remember, God created both the fruit tree and the pine tree; he created each for different reasons. Unlike Euell Gibbons and squirrels, I don’t find the fruit or parts of the pine tree very edible. I do, however, truly enjoy the fruits of the plum, of the apple, of the pear, and of the peach tree, all of which lose their leaves in the winter. And frankly, if the tree needs the expanded production capacity of the deciduous leaves to create sufficient sugar for these wonderful fruits, I’m okay with the trees shutting down and looking dead in the winter months. Pine trees feed squirrels just fine, maybe even a few elk, deer, and even some birds. They make wonderful lumber when harvested, provide abundant shade and protection from the winds and are very beautiful. But they don’t give me jelly for my bread, fruit for my salad, or wine for our non-Baptist friends … ‘cause no good Baptist would ever admit to enjoying an adult beverage!
Truth of the matter is, I have found a lot of Christians who are like evergreens. They weather hard times with very little change to their outward appearances and are stalwarts in any storm. These people are like Martha in the Lazarus story or the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. We need those people. Their durability during hard times is an inspiration. And yet, sometimes that same durability causes them to be a bit too acidic … too hard … maybe even, unforgiving.
So we also need those who are like Mary and the younger son … the ones who may not weather the storms so stoically, and those who may even fall away for a time when the going gets rough. While the fruit of the Martha and of the righteous son are good … often that fruit is not as sweet as the fruit of a Mary or someone who knows what it is to have been at the bottom … whose life was not always green.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to be like the Cedars of Lebanon and stand tall through the storm. But too often I am more like the fig tree who has failed to bear fruit. And yet, the same God who created the mighty cedars also created the fig tree. That God knew that with the attention of the master Gardner, and with a little digging around the root, even a barren tree that appears to be dead can bear fruit!
Oh Lord, let the winters in our lives be few, but when they do come, teach us to do what is necessary for us to stay alive and to bear fruit. For those who can be as the evergreen, give them continued stamina and durability, and for those who need to go dormant for a while, help them to maintain your sweet nectar in their soul that they might bloom in the coming spring. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains