A few years ago I was trekking through a desolate, snow-filled forest, enjoying the spacious tranquility of a crisp winter hike, when I came upon a tree buzzing with activity and life. There were well over a hundred little birds gathered in and around a relatively small tree less than 10 metres ahead of me. It was striking both visually and audibly. Surreal even.
I hadn’t noticed a single bird up to this point on my hike. Now here was a whole flock of them in one tree, having a party. Why here? What was so special about this tree?
As I moved closer I found the answer. Little red berries. Of course! These birds were in this tree because it had food.
Jesus said: “Birds don’t store up food for the long winter, yet God provides what they need each season. Don’t you think God cares about you as much as God cares about birds?” (my paraphrase).
This is probably feeling like the longest winter on record for many of us. Some have been hit harder by this pandemic than others. Some are worried about how they’re going to find basic necessities like food, jobs or shelter. For many, it’s the other necessities of life, like social interaction and human connection, that are in short supply. Most of us are missing simple things like having coffee with friends, embracing loved ones or singing in church together. I think we are all experiencing days when it feels like we’re “starving” and all the trees around us are bare. We’re starving for stability, predictability, foresight, belonging, a break, a hug. Where are the berry-filled trees in this barren forest we find ourselves?
My wife and I have lived in three houses in our 20 years of marriage, and at each house we’ve had bird feeders. I think my wife goes a little overboard, to be honest, but that is only my opinion, and I’ve come to accept that my opinion is wrong. We currently have five bird feeders in our backyard. Maybe that’s normal or maybe I’ve revealed something about our family I should have kept to myself.
Regardless, my point is this. Whenever we put bird feeders out, at first no birds come. Then one morning I hear my wife rejoicing. Finally, a bird has come to dine at the Watson birdhouse emporium. Each day after that, more and more birds arrive. Then, after a few weeks, we need to purchase more gargantuan bags of bird seed because of the constant flow of birds visiting each of our specialized feeders.
Birds always seem to find our feeders. Eventually. Birds instinctively find berry-filled trees and seed-filled feeders. Try saying that five times fast!
I wonder if human beings are the same as birds in this regard. Is there an intrinsic part of us that naturally gravitates toward places, people and things that feed us? That nourish us mind, body, heart and soul?
I’m speculating here, but perhaps the reason we can’t find the berry-filled trees of life, at times, is because we aren’t in tune with that deeper part of ourselves—our inner guide—that leads us to the nourishment we need. Maybe God does provide what we need each season, but the problem is that we are often disconnected from our internal spiritual compass.
Like I said, I’m speculating.
I do think people are like birds, in that they tend to congregate where they are fed and nourished. People are actively, maybe even instinctively, seeking the nourishment they need. Of course, more and more people are finding the nourishment they need for mind, heart, body and soul in places other than the church. This is puzzling and concerning for churches, but I believe there is a simple solution. In theory at least.
Trees that produce fruit gather in the hungry. Especially in seasons of scarcity and instability. Where there is fruit, people will come. Eventually. This is why so many flocked to Jesus. He fed and nourished people. Jesus was a berry-filled tree in a barren world.
Of course, sometimes the nourishment we need to be offering people is actual fruit. Physical food. But that’s not the only nourishment people need in life. The more our lives and churches produce the fruit of the Spirit, the more nourishment we have to offer others. We become like berry-filled trees in a desolate winter woodland.
Troy Watson is seeking to be the berry-filled thorn bush God created him to be.