A bright-smiled young man explained to a group of us CollegePlus students and alumni about how his education experience was like a tree. He explained his tendency to want things to happen all at once, for the giant oak to just appear out of nowhere. “And then an acorn dropped on my head,” he laughed. That acorn reminded him that life is a process, not an immediate arrival.
It’s funny how something like that will stick with you.
I like to always have myself together. Forget the journey—I want to be at the destination now. I want the oak to spring into existence in front of me. Majestic live oaks sprawl across the Southern US. Branches tower and dip, stretched out like eternal arms and crooked low to create a bench. The solidity of these trees is astounding. Their girth is broad and deep and gnarled with experience.
But, in the awe of their expanse, it is hard to forget their age. Their bulk screams solidity, power, art, beauty—and also years and years of living.
I think it may be impossible to finger the knotted bark of a live oak and not vicariously experience the cut of the barbed wire half-grown into the side of the tree, the lightning that scorched one black branch, the gallons of raindrops that have washed in rivulets down the leaves, through the canyons of bark, all the way down to the roots.
When you look at a tree, you cannot help but see experience. Time. A process.
Then, somehow, I expect to roll out of bed and be sanctified, fully-grown, and perfectly stable in about 5 minutes.
“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”
– James 1:2-4, CEB –
I expect that I’ll be grown-up, and pain won’t hurt anymore. Trials won’t surprise anymore. Joy won’t ache anymore.
In other words, I expect to get an oak tree overnight.
When I think about that young man’s story about the acorn, I realize that I’m much closer to the acorn end of things than I am to the sprawling live oak tree. I am small, weak, unimpressive—and filled with unutterable energy, potential, and room for growth.
Near our home in the mountains is the most beautiful cave I’ve ever visited. Deep below the surface, winding trails are filled with incredible cave decorations: canopies and columns, soda-straw stalactites, channels and coral reefs of extruded rocks.
This cave was not carved out of rock overnight. Time, again, did the beautifying. In a complex pattern of yielding and standing strong against external pressures, the cave gradually took on the shape it is in today.
The slow work of rain. Dirt moving. Stretching up, hollowing out, yielding to change. Standing through lightning crashes or the roll of an earthquake. This is how a tree grows, or a cave begins.
Sometimes we think we have to get it right, right now. Life becomes more about understanding than waiting.
But that’s just not how it is.
When life hurts, I don’t have to be okay. I don’t have to quiet my tears, or hold back my feelings of loss, or try to wrestle my pain into subjection.
All I have to do is rejoice in belief.
People talk about the stages of grief because healing and growth are not instant things. God most often chooses to work through natural processes to do His work–and often, that means waiting. It means I do not become whole in a moment. It means you have to hold on to God’s promises and let Him work out the healing or growing on His timeline.
Rejoicing in belief means that I trust God with my process. It means that I learn to rest in the middle of inner turmoil. It means that, in my deepest places, I believe God with all my heart, even if my emotions are up and down. Rejoicing in belief means I choose to say “Your will be done,” I am glad that it will be done, and I hold on for when it will be done in full.
When you are stuck “in process,” remember that your Savior became a man and felt these same tensions and lived the same body-soul wrestling that we live. He knows, and He cares. And, best of all, He is able to make us stand strong in the uncertain growing.
Remember, little acorns, that you are not oaks yet, but you are becoming mighty and wise.
Remember, little caves, that the deep places of the earth were not carved in a night.
Remember, sweet sisters, that your heart is on a journey, and Jesus is walking the path with us, seeing His perfect work all the way to the end.
We’re works in progress. Believe, and let Him grow you strong and deep and sure. He is able to do it.
“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis –