As we strive to reverse climate change and save our planet, tree planting’s become a big thing. If you are a follower of gardening programmes, you may have picked up a tip when planting a new tree to provide a stake fixed at an angle pointing in the direction of the prevailing wind, but that stake should be removed after a couple of years to allow the tree to develop deeper roots as it bends in the wind. Part of the ‘design’ of the tree is to bend and flex under pressure because that produces deeper and stronger roots. The roots go deeper on the side facing the direction the wind is coming from.
I was out walking recently and came across an uprooted tree in woodland not far from where I live. This was a huge, mature tree, surrounded by many other trees, and it had been around for a long time, maybe since the woodland was planted in the early 1900’s. The woodland and adjacent parkland was a gesture from the landowners to the people of the local mining and industrial community to provide some respite from the dust and grime of the coal mining industry which was so prevalent in this part of the north west.
Despite its huge size and weight, and it not being identified as a tree at risk or attacked by disease, it had been blown over and lay like a spent matchstick. The ‘root plate’, as they call it, was very thin. The roots went sideways more than downwards. Perhaps the roots were shallow because the tree was surrounded by other trees so it hadn’t had to withstand the full force of the wind. In recent storms many big trees were blown over because the wind came from a different direction to the norm, making it easier to dislodge any shallow roots.
I came across another angle on this recently when I spotted a tree clinging for all it’s worth to a cliff edge. The ground below half of it had been washed away by coastal erosion, exposing the root system. It was a smaller tree standing on it’s own, but had developed deeper roots. For now, it was standing firm.
I’m sure you can see some parallels here with our spiritual lives. No matter how strong we may look on the outside, if our roots don’t go deep we can be vulnerable to being blown over in the storms and strong winds of life.
Trees are fairly resilient on the whole and will bend in the wind. You may have heard trees creaking sometimes. We too may creak and sway a bit in the storms but still stay standing. We are designed to withstand a certain amount of pressure, but if we are constantly battered and have only shallow roots, there may come a time when we fall over when something comes at us from a direction we weren’t expecting.
We can seem strong when surrounded and protected by others. But we may need to leave the security and relative shelter provided by others and feel the full force of the prevailing wind. Our resilience and faith will grow stronger under pressure.
The picture of a small tree suffering from coastal erosion suggested to me that there are no guarantees in life. Even if we have put down strong roots there are some things we have no control of. Here are a couple of snippets of ancient wisdom to consider:
You can’t find firm footing in a swamp, but life rooted in God stands firm. Proverbs 12:3 (New Living Translation)
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Jeremiah 17:7-8 (New Living Translation)
Image credit: Eilis Garvey via Unsplash