You Got Grain?

This afternoon during my lunch break, I went for a nice three-mile hike in the park near where I work.  As I walked along, I started noticing the dark shadows of the bare trees silhouetted against the gray January sky, and got to thinking about their growth process.  As I’ve talked about before, even when the trees look lifeless in the winter, growth is still going on beneath the surface.

There are, of course, distinct growth cycles for trees, with much more substantial growth occurring during the summer months than the winter.  The end result of this multi-seasonal growth is easily noticed when we look at a cross-section of the tree.  We’ve all seen wood grain, with its alternating rings of light and dark, but how often do we think about the reasons behind the beautiful swirls and patterns?  Besides resulting in beauty, there are some important differences between the two.

The dark parts of the wood are harder, stronger, but more brittle wood that has a tendency to snap rather than bend, while the light parts are softer, weaker, but more flexible wood that tends to bend rather than stand strong.  This difference is important, because if the tree was all dark wood, it would break under stress, but if it was all light wood, it would collapse instead.  But with both kinds, each layered on top of the other, the result becomes a strong but flexible tree that is able to withstand the strain and stress of the environment surrounding it.

It’s interesting to think about the parallels between the growth of a tree and our own lives, because we too experience distinct seasons of growth.

If our life breezed by without any troubles as if we were in a continual summer, we wouldn’t be very strong, and the onslaught of one of life’s inevitable storms would easily topple us.  However, if our life was one trial after another without a reprieve, an incessant winter in our life, we would most likely snap under the pressure.  However, with the ebb and flow of the different seasons, we’re able to experience both kinds of growth – the hard, focused growth of our winter months, as well as the joyous growth of peace-filled summers.

And so, no matter what season of life we’re in, we can take heart.  If we’re in our summer months right now, we can rejoice that the troubles of winter have strengthened us to stand against the passing but inevitable storms of life.  Likewise, if we’re trudging through the cold, dreary winter months, we can be encouraged by the memories of summers past, and rejoice that summer is coming once again.