Dead Trees and Broken Promises

The tree is dead.  Dead.

tree-54425_640To say I am unhappy would be truthful.  But, I think it goes even deeper than that.

I feel betrayed.

Twelve years ago, the Lovely Lady and I put a sapling in the ground.  We were careful to follow all the recommendations of the nursery from which we purchased the beautiful little promise of a tree.

Well?  That’s what it was—was it not?  

It was a promise of shady spaces and wind rustling through green leaves.  The promise of branches for grandchildren (not yet born) to climb upon in summertime and of brilliant purples of autumn splendor.

A promise—that’s what it was.

A broken promise.  Now.

Day after day I look out to see if anything has changed.  Every other plant in the neighborhood has burst out in green celebration of the new life Spring entices to accompany itself.  

Already, I’ve had to trim a foot of new growth from the hedge on the opposite end of the front yard, so rapid has been its exuberant development.

I’ve told you about the magnificent scarlet maple around the corner in the backyard and its fantastic enterprise of repopulating the world. Since its emissaries of choice, the spinning jennies floating on the spring breezes, have already done their part, the stately tree has simply covered itself in greenery and is content.

But, what of the twenty-foot-tall ash tree in the front yard?  

Nothing.  No buds.  No leaves.  


It’s dead.

As often as I walk past it, I break off a little twig and test for life.  The dead wood snaps like a match stick.  Every time.

There will be no shade this year.  Not long from now, if my grandson grabs a limb and pulls himself up onto it, as he did only last week, the limb will give way under his weight.

Broken limb.  Broken promise.

I feel betrayed.  Angry even.

I know, I know—it’s just a tree.  But, I’m not the first to feel this way.  Others have been angry at the loss of their shade, too.

Take Jonah, for instance.  He sat on the hillside, ready to watch a spectacle (though fairly certain it wouldn’t happen) and enjoyed the shade of the plant under which he rested.  When it shriveled the next day, he was angry.  (Jonah 4:6-8)

He wanted to die.  Angry at God for taking his shade, he begged to be allowed to die.

I’m not that mad, but the message of Jonah is starting to get through my thick skull anyway.  

There was never a promise made to me with regard to this tree.  The Creator of all we know allows us to enjoy His gifts.  And, sometimes He takes one away.

In my experience, when He takes away, He gives something better.  I don’t think there’s any promise of that, but it seems to be the way He works.

Often, I think we miss this message when we blame God for the loss of other things which are precious to us.  We forget that He is God.  We forget that He is looking at all of time and history as His plan unfolds.

Still, the losses hurt.  We wonder if we’ve been betrayed.  Anger rises.

But, the tree was never mine.  The things we have lost were always His.

There is a promise I remember about trees.  The promise, spoken beautifully by the psalmist in one of my favorite pieces of poetry, is clear.  (The entire Psalm will be found below, in the old English as I first heard it, years ago.)

The upright person, one who loves God and wants nothing or no one else, is going to be like a tree planted by the river, with roots going down deep into the fertile soil.  

No withered greenery here—no brittle limbs that snap under the fingers—no barren branches.  In every season, this tree will produce its prescribed crop.  Every time.

A promise, not of immense wealth, nor of fame and renown, but of faithfulness and a legacy.

I don’t have to remind you of the rest of the promise, do I?  The psalmist spent no more time on it than will I:

Reject Him and what little impact you have on your world will fade and disappear with a strong wind.

A sobering thought.  Both parts of the promise, I mean.  


I think I like the idea of trees with roots that go down deep.  

Maybe the next one I plant will be like that.  No promises.

But, that other tree?

Our Creator keeps His promises.

Green leaves.  Fruit, in season.  Bounty.

I like trees.




God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.
(Martin Luther ~ German theologian/reformer ~ 1483-1546)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1 ~ KJV)


© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

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