If your life were reflected in a particular kind of tree, what kind of tree would that be? It sounds like a question you would hear at the local tofu and granola lovers meeting (for the record – I like both tofu and granola).
Many would want to be a giant redwood or a sequoia. Massive. Majestic reaching heights of 200 feet with a trunk measuring up to 100 feet. Others would want to be a weeping willow, the ultimate testament to ‘bend but don’t break’. Others would want to be a pine tree enduring all four seasons of life. Me? I would want my life to be an aspen tree, the strongest tree in the world.
The aspen is a relatively small tree. While it can reach a height of 100 feet, few would identify the aspen as the strongest tree in the world. The aspen is most notable for it’s beautiful bark, leaves which appear to tremble in the slightest breeze and beautiful fall colors.
Friends of mine have planted an aspen in their yard hoping to bring a little touch of the mountains to their suburban home. The problem is, the vast majority of solitary aspens will not survive. And, if the lone aspen tree does survive, what started as a gardening dream soon turns into a horticultural nightmare! Soon, aspen trees are growing all over the yard, in the neighbors yard, underneath the driveway and against the foundation.
And yet, the “problem” of the aspen is actually the strength of the aspen. Aspen trees were never meant to exist in isolation. They were designed to live in community – in a grove of aspen trees. Aspen trees reproduce not only by seed but also by extensive suckering – which means that new shoots grow off existing roots. Every aspen grove started with a mother tree, which arrived at site by seed. As suckers shoot off the roots – a grove is formed. In reality, aspens are not individual trees; aspens are a community of trees. Aspen communities share the same root system, which means that an aspen grove is really one living plant. In fact, the largest living thing in the world is an aspen grove in central Utah.
The interconnectedness of the Aspen gives life and strength. What affects one tree affects them all. In a forest fire, while every tree may burn down, the aspen root survives and quickly reestablishes itself resulting in the aspen being the first to regrow.
What does this have to do with pastors? EVERYTHING!! Far too many pastors are redwoods, oaks and pines. Too few are aspens. In our ever-evolving world of technology, social networking and self-protection, we live increasingly fragmented, isolated lives. And yet – no one was created for isolation. We were not created to be isolated trees! Deep in our hearts – we all yearn for release from isolation. We were created for authentic relationships. We long for belonging. We crave community. We yearn to be an aspen.
Many years of serving pastors has taught us that it’s not possible to thrive as free-standing, isolated entities. It’s not possible to survive without each other.