It was tall. It was green. It was bushy. But something wasn’t right.
I crossed my arms and looked up at the fat, green oak tree. Beside me, my husband sighed. I shook my head. “I don’t want to do it. Do you want to do it?”
“I don’t want to do it.”
I stepped back. “Someone’s got to do it.”
“It’s an ugly job.”
“That thing will be right outside the window once we build the cabin. We can’t have it looking like that.”
“I know. But still . . . ” Bryan crossed his arms over his chest.
I put my hand on my hips.
For a moment, we both stared at the oak and didn’t say a word. Shiny green and red leaves poked from all parts of the tree. But they weren’t oak leaves. Thick vines twisted around the trunk and branches. Those didn’t belong to the oak either.
The green wasn’t the green of a healthy oak. Instead it was a sign of poison. A huge batch of poison oak had grown up into the tree and twined around every branch. The tree was thick with it. Lush and green, but with nasty poison.
Bryan tugged on his sleeves. “Okay, I’ll do it then. But get the bleach ready for the laundry.”
Four hours later, the laundry was in, Bryan was taking a cool shower, and the tree was clear. I tromped up the hill and looked at it. It wasn’t lush anymore. And it wasn’t green. Scraggly branches with a few sad leaves spread from the trunk and reached toward the sky.
“Ugh, it looks awful,” I murmured.
As I looked at the now-bare soil beneath it, I noticed there were no acorns scattered on the ground, and no little baby oaks growing around it.
Then it struck me. That big, strong oak was stifled by that little vine. The oak was bigger, taller, thicker, and more established. And yet, that small, thin, poisonous weed had nearly choked the life from it.
As I stood and gazed at the tree, I was reminded of Jesus’ parable from Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. In that story, seed fell on four different types of soil. In the third, the seed sprouted among thorns and the life was choked out the plants, just as the poison oak had choked the oak tree. Jesus likened the thorns to the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and desires for other things.
If something as small as poison oak could choke the life from a big, strong oak, how much more vulnerable was I to worry and wrong desires? After all, there are so many things in life to worry about – finances, schooling, job concerns, health, family crises. It’s easy to allow those to twine around my mind and shove poisonous leaves through my branches until there are acorns of God’s word dropping into my daily life. No little oaks springing up around me. I had to ask if I was I producing any kind of crop in God’s Kingdom. Was it growing stronger through me, or was I just barely getting by?
As I asked those questions, I realized that I had some poison oak in my life – worries that kept me from focusing on God, goals I was pursuing that were good but weren’t God’s plan, things that were distracting me from fully living the life God had for me. And just like we did for the oak tree, I had to cut off the poison oak at its base and peel away all the vines from the branches of my life.
Over the past few years, we’ve kept the poison oak away from that oak tree, and now the tree is full, healthy, and green with leaves all its own. In time, it recovered from the stranglehold of the poison oak. It became the beautiful tree God meant it to be.
And I know that if I, too, keep the thorns away, I can be full of the greenness of true life. I can be all God intends me to be. I can be a tall, strong oak in the Kingdom of God.