THE FRIENDSHIP OAK
The article in my alma mater’s magazine brought a smile and a chuckle. An update of the Friendship Oak tree on the Mississippi Gulf Park campus captured a half-page of written recognition. The Friendship Oak, it seems, had suffered a “branch failure” on one of its main limbs and now the arborists’ report was complete. Wait a minute. Did the article say “branch failure?” Good grief. Just say a big limb fell! In addition, not one, but two experts from two different locations in Louisiana were called in to examine the tree and to provide an inspection report. The final report indicated “the health of the collapsed limb was stressed.” Duh! A tree stressed? I bet I know more about stress than a tree does! Action has since been taken at the recommendation of the experts to increase support to the remaining limbs. Periodic inspections are anticipated to follow. As if the idea of writing about a broken tree limb were not humorous enough, the article said officials are committed “to ensure that the Friendship Oak retains its dignity as it advances through its life cycle.” Really? Did the officials also say that the Friendship Oak would be promised a century old birthday party?
You may not find the same humor in the article as I did. I’ll admit, however, the serious tone of the article did strike a chord with me as I began to reflect upon the similarities of the Friendship Oak to spiritual health. We, too, can get weighed down over time with external forces, some of which may be beyond our control. If we don’t address the problem, the potential of “branch failure” may occur. The book of John chapter 15 speaks about non-productive branches. “He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit” (John 15:2). He is referring to a grapevine but I think we can stretch the analogy to a tree. The tree branches that bear fruit are pruned so they produce even more fruit when the time is right.
We can extract several things from the Friendship Oak analogy to our own lives. First, an expert exists who is intimately familiar with all there is to know about us – what our stresses are, how we are handling them, our ability to bear fruit, when we show signs of cracking, when we fail, and when we fall from excess pressure. Second, the expert doesn’t just know us but he can make recommendations to improve our health. Maybe we need to get rid of a branch here or there so our overall health is the best it can be. Perhaps the branch is diseased and is beginning to impact other healthy branches. We may need pruning – severe pruning. Third, the expert not only knows us and makes recommendations but he takes action. This action helps us retain our dignity and productivity. The action may be drastic or subtle. Fourth, we need support. We need support for the healthy limbs that have not failed to keep them from doing so. The source of that support may come from family, friends, the church, or other means.
What a blessing it is to have an expert that we may call upon to take care of us and who will watch over us as we advance through the varying stages of life. Each stage has specific needs and requires special care. Our expert knows it all. That expert has a name. He is referred to in John 15 as the True Vine. We call him Jesus.
What do you think the expert would find if he were to inspect you right now? Would he find “branch failure?” Would he need to get out the pruning shears? Would he find new growth that is beginning to bud forth? May your branches grow strong and prosper.