Failing to See the Forest for the Tree

Picking up Rafaella from the Cleveland Airport

It’s been a busy Saturday.

A large chunk of the morning was spent helping my daughter to gain confidence in driving on highways, with wintry weather conditions, while picking up a friend from the airport.

Task List at Cottage Gate

A large chunk of the afternoon was spent doing odd jobs at my parents’ place: replacing a door knob, replacing battery components for the power unit in my mother’s scooter, and replacing lightbulbs in the kitchen and living room.

None of these tasks ended up being particularly difficult. And I even got to spend some time with some special people in the process. Still, this general phase of life has felt heavy at times: where several different sets of people from different parts of my life need me, or depend on me, in different ways. I get it with my children stepping into adulthood and my parents aging. But I also get it with extended family. And with my work, on both the local level and a couple of different network levels. I feel it with friends. And sometimes even with society at large.

Sometimes, I can feel like, “It’s just not fair,” or “Why me?!?” I can feel like I’m getting dumped on, even though I’ve got problems of my own.

Western Reserve Greenway: Lockwood to Ashtabula County Line

Recently, though, I feel like God started to provide me with some of His perspective, while walking in the woods. As I processed my emotions about all these things and prayed about them, it occurred to me that I’m in a position that many others might consider to be enviable: settled, established, autonomous, stable, secure, healthy… even “powerful” (at least, within certain communities / systems / structures). There are some people who depend on me because of these dynamics.

And in this, I was reminded of the way that generational succession works a lot like the succession of an old-growth forest. Natural cycles of birth, growth, aging, deterioration, and death are on display at all times. And it just so happens that I might be one of the taller, thicker, stronger trees in my section of the woods at this point. My canopy spreads wider than most over the other plants and animals living in the other layers of the forest. I have access to abundant sunlight, rainwater, and nutrients drawn from the soil because I’ve been around for a while. I didn’t earn this position. I just happen to be of the right age, planted in the right place, with a favorable combination of circumstances that have allowed me to avoid fire, or disease, or logging, or whatever else might take a tree out. But I will not be in this position forever.

Western Reserve Greenway: Lockwood to Ashtabula County Line

For the time being, I may provide some structure for climbing vines, nesting critters, and hungry insects. Because that’s just how the world works. I can resent my position in this ecosystem, or I can be grateful for it. But it’s silly to focus so intently upon the experience of one individual, one tree, when there’s a whole forest surrounding that tree. A forest that’s been around for thousands, or tens of thousands of years, growing by God’s goodness and grace, and not through any heroic measures taken by any one individual creature. The Creator bears ultimate responsibility. And that can be humbling, but it can also be relieving and reassuring.

I’m trying to focus more meaningfully on joy and gratitude this year. If I’m the proverbial oak tree, I’m going to keep dropping as many acorns as I can, while I can. I’m going to embrace the opportunity to provide support for other plants and animals and build my biomass to support them in life — and even in death, when the nutrients that I’ve gathered will be returned to the environment through the work of insects and fungi. Because it’s about the forest, not about me, the tree.

This entry was posted in Adolescence, Aging Parents, Children, Church, Family, God, Health, Hiking, Introspection, Leadership, Prayer, Transition, Weather, Young Adulthood. Bookmark the permalink.

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