Tree rings of joy

Everything has its season it seems and in 2020 the season of life for my 50-foot-tall thornless honeylocust tree came to an end.  Talk about adding insult to injury.  In a year with a pandemic the one thing most of us wanted to do was to go outside and enjoy nature and gardening as a way to relieve stress.  I’ve found myself thinking “what an inconvenient year to lose this wonderful shade producing tree from my backyard.”

But in 2020 I think we have all experienced that there are far fewer guarantees in life than we perhaps thought there were.  I’ve watered, pruned, fertilized, and cared for this old tree that was planted long before my time meticulously throughout the last many years.  But even with the best tree care I can provide, I have come to realize that I still must release the outcome and realize that I don’t have full control over the ongoing cycles and seasons of life that I am a participant in. 

A locust tree can live for many decades and is a native tree to Kansas.  Many locust trees can live over 100 years in the right conditions and while my tree hadn’t reached that age, it was well on its way.  I counted at least 60 rings on my tree.

Tree rings are interesting things.  Trees rings tell us not only how old the tree was when it died, but also the story of the travails it endured during its lifetime.  In the spring time when growing conditions are good, cells grow rapidly and are less dense but later in the season when heat and drought become prevalent, tree cell growth slows and cells become densely packed together.  We refer to the fast growth as early wood and the slow growth as late wood.

Taking time to observe 60 years’ worth of tree rings has slowly but surely changed my attitude about the loss of my tree.  Why?  Well, as with anything in nature, when we take time to notice, there is always an invitation.  In this case there was an invitation to joy.  Joy as I’ve come to understand it is not a feeling, but rather an unending and pervasive sense of having well-being.

Joy then-if it is not a feeling- is like a tree ring since it can wrap itself around any circumstance or year of adversity we face in our lives-just like a tree ring encircles the tree each year of its life.  Regardless of whether my locust tree faced a year of adversity (narrow ring) or abundance (wide ring) it completed the new tree ring every year.

Joy is very much like a tree ring.  If we have it, it will wrap around and encircle every single circumstance and experience (good or bad) in our life and it will reframe the entire human experience we are having-just like it reframed my experience of losing my beautiful shade tree.  Joy gets to be quite surprising in this way when you actually take time to think about it.

Joy is perhaps the biggest theme of the Christmas season and as you and yours celebrate this year, do you have joy?  It isn’t the feeling of being happy, but rather, joy is an unending and pervasive sense (knowing) that I have well-being.  That is, after all, the invitation of Christmas–to discover where real well-being in life can be found and to seek it out.  May your 2020 Christmas be one of seeking and finding full joy.