A lesson from a walk in the woods
By Gil Hanke
Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 (CEB)
While on vacation in New Hampshire, I took several long walks on trails and bike paths in the White Mountains. On one particular day I allowed myself to be instructed by the beauty God placed in front of me.
These woods are dense, with many different kinds of trees. Some are evergreen; others are broad leafed and they are beginning to take on some colors of autumn. Some tree trunks have the same diameter as my arm, others I would have difficulty getting my hands to touch if I gave the tree a hug. On this day I walked a bike path for more than four miles. The even surface permitted me to really explore the trees and the underbrush.
What I saw on this beautiful day was a quest for light. The tallest trees reached straight skyward; their branches broad and unencumbered by other smaller trees. Their highest branches formed a canopy of green against the blue cloudless sky. I was surrounded by that canopy, rarely in direct sunlight.
The smaller trees illustrated the quest for light. For most, there were no branches near the ground. The trunks of both the evergreen and the broad-leafed trees twisted to find the life-giving light filtered through the canopy. These smaller trees were not at all symmetrical with leaves only on the “light side” of the tree.
While there was no lack of water, no lack of fertile soil all the trees were on a quest for light.
In some places there was no light, and smaller trees stood barren, stunted, twisted and dead. In places where a fallen tree created an open window to the sky, the area was filled with thriving new growth leaning into the light.
So what did I learn from this walk?
Even with plenty of water and fertile soil, trees will not be healthy unless they have light.
If planted in a field, all trees with water and good soil will grow straight; as there is nothing to impede the light.
But, in a forest trees struggle to find light.
Most of us don’t live solitary lives. Most of us live in a forest of others which we refer to as community.
God has given my community his life-giving light, and in reality there is enough light for all of us. But we need to seek it, strive for it.
Yes, we may need to do some bending and twisting to find the light.
Yes, there is some natural pruning that takes place so that we can have access to God’s light.
Yes, there are always bigger light seekers who appear to have more access to God’s light, but in reality they grew slower than others in the community and encountered different risks.
We all have access to the same light of God, but big or small, those who are evergreen, and those who have seasons of bareness must struggle to find the light.
Are we actively seeking the light?
As trees, we can go without light for a period of time, but to stay healthy we need to be renewed by God regularly. The light I get today is new light from the same source.
Tomorrow, if I seek it, I will receive the gift of new light, again from the same source.
When I was a child I got the light I needed, which made me aware of God, but I have always needed more.
I hope I am never satisfied that the light I have received from God in the past is adequate for my present or future. Unlike the trees, we are also gifted with the chance to reflect that light to a world that needs God’s renewing light more than ever.
Strive for the light, be renewed by the light, and reflect the light.
That is the lesson I learned on my walk in the woods.
Gil Hanke, general secretary
General Commission on UM Men