The cherry trees are dead.
I killed them.
And already, I sorely miss those fresh spring blossoms, the cherries hanging in clusters, and the blazing red leaves lining the yard in October.
But you are probably wondering, why? Why did I kill them if I loved them so much?
Well, precisely for that reason. I killed them in my attempts to protect them. I killed them as I tried to save them.
I’ll tell you the story:
Quite a few years ago, when my oldest children were still very little, we came home from a holiday to find one of our cherry trees lying across the lawn, sprawling helplessly, totally severed from its roots. The beavers, it seems, like the taste of cherry wood, and it was obvious from the stump that a beaver was the culprit in this crime. When we looked further, there were other stumps closer to the water, sawn off in the same way, but with the trees completely gone, whisked away to fortify a beaver house somewhere. And so, with the threat of more destruction looming on the horizon, I took it upon myself to protect what remained of our cherry trees.
A neighbour said that if you wired the bottoms of the trees with chicken wire, where the beavers chew, it would inhibit their sawing ability. So during my children’s nap time for a week or so I went out armed with chicken wire and snips and loosely wired the base of the remaining cherry trees.
And it worked! No more trees were lost. Their blossoms hung white and ruffly in the spring, their fruit fell on the trampoline in the summer, and their autumn beauty shone as the kids went off to school in the fall.
Until last year, that is.
It was just as all the snow melted and the rest of the trees were pushing out their fresh new foliage that we noticed the state of the cherry trees. No leaves, no life, just barren branches. They were dead. Every one.
And suddenly realization dawned. What I had done to save those trees was behind their loss. I had forgotten to keep track of the time, and check the tightness of the wire, and loosen the hold as they grew.
Sure enough, the wires had cut into the stumps and, little by little, strangled the trees until they were unable to live. In my zeal to save and protect, yet my absentmindedness about their almost unnoticeable growth, I had damaged them beyond repair. My efforts to accomplish one thing had actually brought about the opposite.
I cut all the wires off the next day, but, despite my attempts to undo what had been done, it has been confirmed this year that the cherry trees are indeed dead. And I can’t help but think of the warning that is built into this story, a warning I would be wise to heed.
When we restrictively try to protect what we love without allowing for growth, we end up strangling and suffocating the very thing we are trying to hold on to.
This holds true in many realms, especially any realm that includes something very dear to me: my children, my spouse, my friends, my local church. In many cases there is need initially for some guidance and protection, but if I fail to grow with the relationship, and decide it’s best to keep the straitjacket in place because I fear loosening my grip, the thing will “die”.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV). As those cherry trees grew, so did my children. When I was wiring the bases of the trees, my children were toddlers and they needed quite a lot of firm direction, with appropriate consequences when the directions went unheeded. I was required to fence them in to ensure their safety and teach them what would serve them well in life.
But now, some of these same children are a few years from complete independence from me. Often, what they do at this stage is not about lack of awareness or knowledge, but about the choice they make knowing the potential consequences. And there are things completely outside of my realm of control that they need to look to the Lord to provide for them. I am continually reminding myself that I cannot save them. They are living and breathing beings with a spiritual and emotional and physical and social life, and they need to exercise these muscles in order to strengthen them.
Support? Yes. Suffocate? No.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians speaks to this principle. The provision of the law for the Jews as "guardian until Christ came" (Galatians 3:24 ESV) provides a good illustration of the principle. We need guidance and protection to keep us on the pavement and get us safely to school until we have the maturity to stay on the pavement by choice and get to where we’re going because it is our desire to go there. Neither the guidance nor the maturity is inherently right or wrong, but each has its appropriate place in our development. What we need to train us and point us down the right path has the potential to suffocate us when we are old enough to breathe on our own.
Spirit is breath or, as Romans 8:10 says, “the Spirit is life” and locking things down so tight that there is no room for the Spirit to work is a sure way to “kill” something that is living and growing.
So, what is the lesson those cherry trees teach? They remind me of the need for regular assessment with the living, growing things I love. If I really love that person or that thing, I am asked to protect and direct. But when the time is right, I must let go and trust them to God. He is the life-giver and life-sustainer, and He will do what I cannot do once my protecting and directing has lost its purpose. The barren trees lining the yard are reminding me to assess development, continually loosen my grip, and allow for breath. And to do all this sooner rather than later. Some things can’t wait.