Fallen Trees, Flashlights & Dark Nights

Is there a fallen tree in your life?  I’m speaking metaphorically for a problem or ongoing issue, significant life event (like the death of a loved one) that has had such a strong impact on your life that it could be compared to a large tree brought down to the ground by hurricane-force winds in the darkness of night.  This could represent a past or present storm, or one we are afraid will come in the future.  When this change arrives, in whatever form the storm winds come, it can level us to the ground.  We are left facing this obstacle like a fallen tree in our life, and we may not know how to move it, deal with it, or overcome it.  When the morning light dawns we can see just how big of a fallen tree we are facing.

I attended a great lecture last weekend on the dark night of the soul and the commonality we shared as humans who have encountered a dark night in our lives was prevalent in the audience and, in fact, unanimous.  I took many pages of notes as this occurence has happened to me on many levels: personally (the well-known mid-life crisis, my father’s death, children leaving home, to name a few), professionally (in my former job as a therapist I dealt with other peoples’ fallen trees and dark nights on a daily basis until I forgot to take care of me and burned out), spiritually (I have been in Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones more than once!), and even physically (often the body is the last frontier to show the effects of stress).  Sometimes the stress of encountering a fallen tree in the dark night is simply too much and we can become depressed!  Rest assured, if you forgot your flashlight you will likely fall over it, conk your head on it, or, at the very least, stub your toe on it!  Or, maybe, you remembered the flashlight but didn’t check the batteries and the light is weak or without power.

I remember my husband standing before a full church during a celebration on the last day of a spiritual renewal weekend called Cursillo a dozen years ago, sharing this very metaphor that I am borrowing from him.  He compared his life prior to the weekend experience as walking through life with the flashlight (faith) in one hand and the batteries (God’s Power through the Holy Spirit) in his pocket.  He shared how God used the weekend, Jesus, and the love of people to spiritually help him get the batteries into the flashlight where true Light could shine.  That metaphor really hit home for a lot of people that day and I remember it still.

So, about those fallen trees…on one of my walks at Springbank I encountered the one in the photos above and found some answers in nature.  Fallen trees may vary in size and number but if they fall across your path you pretty much have to deal with them one way or another.  Look at the root system of this fallen tree that has not been completely severed from the trunk and see the miracle that has taken place over time:  the shoots of new trees have sprouted and young trees are growing out of the fallen trunk!  Life has sprouted from something left for dead.  This phenomenon can be contemplated from many angles and for me the conclusion is the same: HOPE!  So, the sprouts are nature’s way of dealing with fallen trees in the forest, even if the healing takes a long time to happen.

Let’s consider man’s response to fallen trees.  The one at Springbank was given a surprise ending not only in the sprouts but in the bridge someone built over it.  I suppose there was no particular need to chop up this tree and remove it from the woods and once the sprouts appeared I’m guessing that the nuns who live there wanted to honor the new life appearing from the dead, fallen tree and so they built a bridge over it.  What a great place to sit and think about life!  Sometimes, however, there is no choice but to remove the fallen trees and use the wood for other things, like drums or firewood.

Recently, I watched my husband methodically remove a twisted, diseased, half-dead oak tree from our front yard that was in danger of falling on our house.  I prayed every day that he would not get hurt as one by one he removed top branches and worked his way down.  He stood on the roof of our house and used a saw blade on a very long pole every day after teaching!  I told him to “Be careful!” so many times I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time those two words came out of my mouth! 

One evening last week I was taking a nap after work and I heard a huge thud outside that shook the bed like an earthquake.  I just knew it was the rest of that darned tree coming down!  I jumped up worried it might have landed on my husband!  As I got up I saw him run past the doors and through the backyard AFTER the thud.  I don’t know what that was about but I was glad he was okay!

The quick clean-up of this fallen tree was due in large part to our neighbor’s desire for free firewood to last the winter.  He hauled off most of the large sections.  Obviously, in suburbia, we could hardly leave the fallen tree in the front yard to wait for the lessons of nature or even for us to build a bridge over it.  Still, it will be interesting to see if anything sprouts from the leveled-to-the-ground stump that looks as smooth as a giant pancake lying in the grass.

I don’t think it is a good idea to ignore fallen trees and/or dark nights but this is often man’s response.  We can easily engage in all sorts of compulsive behaviors to numb the pain and remain in denial.  Our culture supports this attitude of keeping a stiff upper lip and being strong but the prolonged effects of practicing denial often result in all sorts of symptoms and dis-eases of the soul.  Facing our fallen trees often brings up emotions we may not be prepared to deal with but in the long run it is better than the alternative and with some support to help us we WILL get through it!  Denial seems to help us cope on the surface of things but over time it eats away our soul until there is just a dim spark flickering like a flame in the wind.

So, if your flashlight is empty, get some new batteries!  Pray!  Ask for help, lean on your family, go to church, get some fresh air, and reach out a little. Take a friend with you on your journey and find a good therapist – there’s no shame in this, it works!  After all, you may have to build a bridge to get to the other side of the path but you MAY find one already placed there by a kind, UNSEEN Hand.

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