Sometimes winter in Indiana can be surprisingly pretty, and sometimes it’s drab and dreary. The other day it was a little of both. The ground was muddy brown and rutted and trampled from a winter of snow, but the trees were still outlined majestically against a bright blue sky, their charcoal branches tracing patterns that moved gently in the breeze. Even without the leaves, it was easy to see which trees would have been beautiful. So I was driving along, marveling at the delicate and complex shapes, when I noticed a row of three large trees beside the road. It looked like a T-Rex had taken a giant bite out of the top of each one. Maybe a quarter of the tree remained, just the bottom and the outer branches, barely enough to indicate the circular shape the tree would be if it had been whole. In an effort to keep the branches from interfering with the telephone wires that passed through the trees, someone had cut a giant chunk right out of the middle, forever changing the shape the tree was intended to be.
Made me think about our spiritual lives. Even if our intentions are good, our actions can have a lasting effect — a defining effect. We’re told to be in this world but not of it, but that’s not an easy line to walk. So once in a while, you might get a little close to the other side of the line. What’s the harm? You can go someplace you shouldn’t be — just for a little bit. Or, although you usually tell the truth, this time it’s easier to tell a lie and avoid the consequences. Or maybe you flirt with a coworker, just enough to counteract the hurt feelings from something your spouse said to you that morning. Or you say you’ll pray for someone, and then you forget. You know you should read the Bible, but your favorite show comes on in ten minutes so you’ll do it tomorrow. You hate gossip, but if what you heard is true, so-and-so really ought to know. You try to walk that line, giving the world just a little chunk of your spirit, trying to remain true to who you are and who you are called to be — but fully aware that you’re not perfect. You slip up. It’s no big deal. We all do.
Most of the time, it works out OK. But every once in a while, the world takes more than you expected, a little more than you were willing to give in the first place. And then, because of the scars left from cutting out that hole, the new growth that you hoped would hide the mistake actually forms around it, and it grows larger and more noticeable. Before you know it, you are defined by something you didn’t really want in the first place. You are shaped by something that God didn’t put there. Next time a situation threatens to take a chunk out of you, don’t hold your breath and hope for the best; call out for the Master Gardener to bend you and shape you just the way you were supposed to be. You’ll be amazed at the way he’ll help you grow.