I have an exercise route in our neighborhood that covers a mile and a half. When I was younger and stronger, I used to run that route twice a week to try and stay in shape. Now as I’m getting older, I still traverse that route somewhat regularly, but I no longer run. And while walking that route recently, my much slower pace allowed me to notice a small piece of God’s creation that reminded me of my own mortality.
I was on the second half of my route and at the beginning of a steep incline when I saw the partial remains of a tree tossed to the side of the road. Obviously, the tree had fallen or been cut down, and someone had sawed off about a seven-inch portion but neglected to take it away. Since it was a little too heavy to carry all the way up that hill, I returned in my car later and brought it home to examine it more closely.
There, I measured its circumference — approximately 27 inches — and I weighed it, too, on our bathroom scale, and it’s over 12 pounds. It reminds me of that children’s book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. If you’ve ever read that story, you know that it’s about a little boy and a tree, growing older together. They share quite a few experiences, but by the end, that little boy has become an old man, and the only thing that’s left of the tree is the stump. And at that point in the story, this old man says, “I don’t need very much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest.” And so you might think that’s why I picked this stump up and brought it home, to use it as a something to sit on after I cut the grass or trim the bushes.
But that’s not why I brought it home. Instead, I brought it home because I was intrigued by the rings. Honestly, I don’t know a lot about trees. I don’t even know what kind of a tree this is. But I do know that some trees, as they grow, they add a ring for each year, and if you count all the rings, you can tell the age of that tree. Let’s zoom in and take a good look at the rings on this tree.
See, right here is the center, so we’ll put a red push pin right there and assume that’s when the tree first came to life. Then, we can start counting the rings. Some are easy to count because there’s a lot of room between them, but others are more difficult to count because they’re all bunched together.
I actually did a bit of research on this, and according to the World Book Encyclopedia, the size of the ring can tell us something about what was going on in the world for this tree at that time. For example, the encyclopedia says that when a tree is young and small, it might not get as much sunlight as the bigger trees, so the rings are smaller; however as the tree gets older and taller, the rings are bigger because the tree is getting more sunlight. And the amount of rain matters too. During a dry year, for instance, the ring would be smaller, but in a wet year, the ring would be bigger.
So as I looked at the rings on this tree and began to count them, I realized this tree and I are about the same age. It’s really hard to count the small inner rings, and my number is different every time I count them, but I would guess that this tree is about 60 to 70 years old. I’ll be turning 69 later this month, so I realize even if we’re not exactly the same age, we both qualify as senior citizens, and I’m intrigued to see my life represented in this tree.
So let’s just say I was born right here in the center at the red push pin in 1951. And then let’s go out about 22 years and say these are the years I spent growing up with my parents and then going on to college.
So this yellow push pin represents me going out on my own in the world and living as a single male for about a decade, working and beginning to make a career for myself.
Then, at this green push pin, this is where I met Barbara. We dated, we got married, we raised our girls, Maria and Katrina, and then they moved out. So that’s another rather long stretch, about 25 years roughly until we get to the blue push pin.
And during the last ten years or so, Barbara and I have been alone again, and, of course, we look forward to even more rings as I approach retirement and we try to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives.
Now I’m showing you all this because it’s somewhat humbling to see my life represented by the rings on this tree, every ring equaling one year. And I think it’s especially instructive to look at it in terms of the virus and the quarantine. Yes, this time of isolation has been unique and difficult, and most of us can’t wait for it to be over. Yet when we compare these couple of months to our entire lives, we see that it’s a very short time, just a mere portion of one of these tiny rings.
So rather than just wish it away, I feel like we should try to just bask in God’s love and enjoy each day, difficult though it may be. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “Every day is a gift from God,” and that is definitely true. One of my favorite verses comes from James 4:14 where he gives us both a question and an answer. He writes, “What is your life? You are but a mist that is here today and gone tomorrow.”
And that is so true. For just like this tree, we could be cut down at any time. I don’t know why this tree came down. Maybe it was hit by lightning; maybe it was the wind; it could have been anything. So two other verses come to mind when I think about this tree and my life.
First, God has a definite plan for all of us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
And when I let that sink in, I realize that even in the midst of this quarantine, God has a plan for us. We are here for a reason. I think back to the story of Queen Esther in the Old Testament, when she was called upon to save her people. Mordecai, who was like a father to Esther, said to her in chapter 4, verse 14, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
“For such a time as this.” I definitely think that line applies to all of us today. I don’t know exactly why, but for some reason, we are all living now in the midst of this pandemic, and what does God want us to do? Do you think He wants you to simply ride out the storm and survive as best as you can? Perhaps. That may be true for some people, especially for those who were struggling beforehand for some reason, and things have only gotten worse since then.
But what if God has another plan. Maybe He needs somebody to minister to someone else in the midst of all that is going on. Maybe He needs a volunteer to help those in need by delivering food or providing transportation. Or for the people who can’t volunteer because they’re confined at home, maybe God needs someone to write a check to aid a particular ministry or maybe just make a phone call or send a card to someone else who is also at home and feeling isolated and lonely. Maybe even a drive-by birthday party for a 91-year-old aunt.
What specifically should you do? I don’t know. I’m not even sure what I should do. But if we take some time to think and pray about it, God will give us an idea or two. For after all, even though this life may be short, God definitely has a plan for us, and we were made for such a time as this.