As we closed our small group for the season in June, one of the activities we did was to reflect on a drawing showing multiple children climbing in a large tree, with widespread, strong branches. Some children have climbed to the top, others are in various stages of the climb, some are having fun, some are struggling, and one appears to be resting. The caption reads, “‘When I take a good, hard look at my spiritual life, I feel like [which child?]… because…’ Explain your choice.”
I have done this exercise several times in the past year or so and greatly appreciate the way the analogy of the children and the tree helps me to think and talk about my spiritual life in a way that I might not, otherwise.
The first time I saw this picture, I was drawn to a little girl close to the base of the tree who looks like she is clutching on to the tree for dear life. Her gaze and body position are not upwards, anticipating the climb, but towards the ground. She looks anxiously paralyzed, unsure if she wants to keep moving up or if she would rather slowly inch her way back to the safety of the ground. In a season that was full of hard questions about why bad things happen to good people, that was me. I was trying to cling tightly to God—to some truth—and I had not completely given up, but I was doubtful that there was good in store ahead, if I kept climbing.
Copyright: Pakphipat Charoenrach / 123RF
Last fall I had the opportunity to be discipled, so when I did this exercise again I realized I resonated more with a girl who is climbing a rope ladder suspended from one of the higher branches. She looks very uncertain, but she is trying to trust in the ladder and in the boy below her holding it steady and cheering her on. In that season of discipleship, I was challenged to try some spiritual disciplines I had not considered before, to think about spiritual growth in different ways, and I was not sure where it would lead. Like that girl I was a bit uncertain, but I was trying to trust in the wisdom of others, that their guidance would get me somewhere I had not been able to on my own.
When my small group did this activity in June, I found myself drawn again to the children at the rope ladder. This time around though, I identified with the boy at the base of the ladder, not as someone helping the girl hanging onto the ladder, but simply as someone excited to climb. The year had been full of a lot of personal growth from being discipled and from walking through The Making of an Ordinary Saint book and curriculum with my small group, so I felt energized about the possibility of going deeper in my spiritual life.
Today, I feel more like the boy who appears to be resting on the branch. Unlike the others above him who seem to be enjoying the view or looking ahead, or those below him actively engaged in the climb, he is completely still. It has been a busy summer, both personally and professionally, and I am tired. Whereas the other children in the higher branches of the tree are now in a place of peace or perspective from their journeys, this boy looks like he needs some time to recharge. I have not climbed as high as I thought I could in June, there are practices that have not become a regular part of my routine (yet), but perhaps after a time of rest I will be ready to keep climbing.
When you take a good, hard look at your spiritual life, where do you find yourself on the tree?
Deborah Woo has been attending The River since 2014. She is a Bay Area native who grew up attending First Covenant Church Oakland and loves watching The River get integrated into the Evangelical Covenant denomination. With a bachelors in psychology from Azusa Pacific University and Masters in Organizational Leadership from Northeastern University, she essentially loves figuring out what makes people tick and how to bring out the best in them. She joined The River staff team in 2016 and enjoys using her administrative gifts to help our growing community! Deborah's favorite thing about The River is that it's a place where people are honest about the non-linear nature of their faith journeys and the invitation for people from a variety of backgrounds to learn alongside and from one another in pursuit of the heart of Jesus.