A few weeks ago, I posted a poem about an oak tree. In the poem, and in my mind, oak trees are big, spreading trees with thick trunks and impressive reach. They are a picture of solid stability, untouched by passing storms. Which sounds nice, doesn’t it? With Ireland now entering another full lockdown for at least the next six weeks, the ability of oak trees to stand unshaken in a turbulent world is enviable. Right now things look awfully unsteady, from where I’m sitting.
The oak wasn’t always that tall and sturdy, though. Underneath his bark are layers of rings, each indicating a season of growth. To the trained eye, a tree’s history is in those rings: good years, bad years, droughts, damage, and through it all, growth, even if it is sometimes barely perceptible. For most of our own rings of history, 2020 will register as a bad year. I’m sure we’ll feel the effects of it for years to come, as well. It’s hard to even think about, but the oak gives us perspective: no tree becomes that strong without weathering some bad years, even before it is strong.
The oak becomes strong by doing the same things every day: drawing life from the soil and the sun and digging roots deeper and deeper into the ground. No matter what is going on in the world around, the tree can still do these same basic things—and we humans are similar. Whatever is happening around us, we can still, day by day, draw life from our Creator and dig our roots deeper and deeper into his promises, offered to us through the work of Christ. He is the one who promised that he would give his people “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.” (Isaiah 61:3)
The promise doesn’t mean that the ashes and mourning are not real. There are times when it is appropriate to mourn, and this is one of them. But even in the mourning, “oaks of righteousness” can grow, as we wait for the promises to be fulfilled. Strong trees don’t grow overnight, but they can keep growing, even at night.