One focus of our retreat was to have some time alone and reflect on our leadership from a spiritual perspective. So we all scattered throughout the trees and chartered our reflection time.
I was drawn to the immensity of many of the trees there. There were such huge trees that towered over me. And as part of my own exercise, I decided to journey through the groves to find the largest trees, and when I found one, I would try to push it over. Of course, it wasn't going to move. The point was, I actually wanted to feel what it was like to push something that was so well rooted. Those trees didn't budge. Even on a really windy day like it was in the Chicago area today - those trees are solid and immovable. So I began meditating on the connection between the roots underground, and the large branches above ground, and how that might speak to my life. But I don't know a lot about trees and plants, so I fortunately found a couple of the arboretum staff out working in a grove, transplanting some trees. I stopped by and asked them about what role roots play with trees and how deep do they have to grow.
One thing that she said amazed me (probably because I don't know much about trees!). She said that tree roots don't actually grow that deep, but they do have to grow long and wide in order to keep the tree stable. In fact, she explained that a tree's roots are usually twice as long as its branches.
Picture that. When we look at a tree, we see its many branches, with its beautiful leaves, stretching far out into the sky. But there's twice as much tree underground, stretching wide across the earth.
So that got me to asking some rhetorical questions. Do I need to be twice as rooted underground as the branches that I lead above ground? Do I need to invest twice as much energy into working on my character as I actually do when I perform the many facets of my life?
In life we have a lot of branches that extend out from us, showing the kind of fruit we're bearing and the direction in which we're growing. Our branches represent the things that we do on a regular basis, roles that we serve, projects or initiatives that we're working on, responsibilities that we maintain, new things we want to do, and the pressures we face. Our branches are the things that we lead and invest our energy in. And everyone around us sees us perform these things. But they don't usually see or care about what goes on inside, or behind the scenes, that allows us to do and be those things. Sadly, most times neither do we.
Is it no surprise,then, that a lot of people don't finish well? Husbands, wives, parents, pastors, polticians, athletes, teachers...
So again, for the time that I spend doing the things of my life, have I spent double the time rooting my character? If I haven't, will I be able to sustain new branches that want to grow? Will I even be able to maintain the current branches that I do? Will I be able to withstand the demanding winds of life that come so often?
It takes twice as much time for something like that, but I will be a much better, stronger person who will not be pushed over by the pressures of life, and who will be able to grow far into the sky with many branches.
To close, it reminded me of what the prophet Jeremiah said:
“...Blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.