Have you ever seen trees after a hurricane has hit?
Many years ago we lived in Mobile, AL, when Hurricane Elena came through. Upon returning home after the storm had passed we found pine trees the diameter of man’s bicep were bent over at a 45 degree angle! Not uprooted, but bent. This sight was rather shocking for me, a novice to hurricanes. Shocking because they didn’t break – they bent!
You may remember a research project called Biosphere 2 where scientists built a contained small-scale environment to study ecological processes. Within the oversized greenhouse, conditions mimicked those of earth. One unanticipated thing researchers found was that the lack of wind within the enclosure had a negative effect on trees. Trees in the biosphere couldn’t reach maturity because of the lack of wind! If trees didn’t have wind, they wouldn’t develop the inner strength of the wood to grow to maturity. While we think of hurricanes, tornadoes, and violent winds as destructive things, wind can also be very important in the life of a tree. There are several ways wind helps trees.
First, wind causes trees to grow “stress wood” or “flexure wood” that is of a different make up than what is grown under non-windy, non-stressful conditions. This stress wood developed in the smaller winds of life help the trees to withstand the force when a major storm comes through. This stress wood grows only in certain areas, it grows thicker, and it has different cell structure. The mechanical properties of this “reaction” wood is different because its purpose is to resist bending or failure in the wood in order to protect the tree from breakage. That flexure wood allows the tree’s branches to bend and sway in ever more violent winds as the tree grows and develops through each stressful wind situation. This “scarring” from stressful events protects the tree from losing branches or breaking in two.
Contrary to what I would have thought, trees growing in dense forests tend to be more susceptible to wind, whereas a single tree growing in the open tends to be most apt to withstand winds. Most likely this is because the forest trees are sheltered from the force of winds and therefore never have the bending in the everyday blowing winds that cause the growth of stress wood. Thus, these sheltered trees are not strengthened to withstand the winds that will come when the trees around them fall or are removed.
Another benefit of wind on trees is seen in their roots. Root systems of trees tend to develop more mass on the opposite side of the tree from persistent prevailing winds. This makes the tree less apt to be blown down. I’m not a scientist here, but it makes sense that they would plant their foundation firmly to “lean into the wind.” They have to dig down deep to weather the storms they face.
Just like those trees weathering the storm, we humans face winds of adversity in our lives. Wind strengthens a tree and helps it to mature and not fall down from its own weight. Adversity strengthens us too when we face it with the Father and allow Him to mature us through the storms we face. If there’s no wind the trees end up being much weaker and aren’t able to survive for long. Likewise, the strength of our faith grows with every squall we weather with the Father. Stress is what makes a tree strong enough to sustain the wear and tear that it will face later in life. And so it is with us. When we face stresses, we are prepared for what comes next. So what should be our response to the tempests of life?
When the winds come, allow them to develop your inner strength.
1) Let that wind of adversity cause you to cling to the Father like those roots of the tree clinging desperately to the rock below the ground. Let Abba God be your foundation. Wrap your roots tightly around Him no matter what comes. Then you can lean into the wind and weather the storm, possibly being bent, but never destroyed or uprooted.
2) Don’t run to other people in the stormy times, run to the Word of God for insight and answers. Be that lone tree in the field. Let those winds blow and strengthen you as you immerse yourself more and more in His words and His wisdom and His ways. Let the lessons and the love from scripture teach you, heal you, and prepare you to stand on your own rather than sheltering yourself within a forest of other trees that may not be there when the next storm comes.
3) Allow the force of that raging storm to cause you to bend and hit your knees in prayer. It may feel like you’re going to break, but we don’t trust our feelings. We trust the One who created us to bring us through unbroken and still standing however bent and humbled we may be. Prayer is key. Honest, open, humbled, broken, crying, singing, complaining, begging, asking “Why?” – we pray.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house [or planted his tree] on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25