What I Learned from Bare Trees

Fall seemed to arrive late this year, and winter weather is already upon many of us. Thankfully, there’s still a good bit of color in many trees. But others are already bare.

I’ve written before about having trouble when the leaves are off, when the landscape is bleak and barren. I soak up fall’s beauty to sustain me through long, colorless winters.

But just recently, something I read touched off a search for the science behind why deciduous tress lose their leaves

  • The leaves wouldn’t survive the cold in many places.
  • Trees conserve water through the winter by purposefully dropping their leaves.
  • Leaves damaged by “insects, disease or general wear and tear,” according to this source, are made to fall off so they can be renewed again in the spring.
  • Some leaves provide resources for the plant before dropping off. According to this source, “A number of deciduous plants remove nitrogen and carbon from the foliage before they are shed and store them in the form of proteins in the vacuoles of parenchyma cells in the roots and the inner bark. In the spring, these proteins are used as a nitrogen source during the growth of new leaves or flowers.”
  • Dead leaves nourish soil.

I either didn’t know, or more likely had just forgotten learning these facts in school way back when. But it helps to know that there is a reason God created trees this way. Their loss of leaves actually protects them and helps them survive the winter and leaf out again in the spring.

Couldn’t God have made all the trees evergreen? He could have. But they’d all look like fir, spruce, or pine trees, made the way they are to survive the winter in a different way. Deciduous trees provide us with such rich color, beauty, and variety. Then they picture death, giving way to springtime resurrection. Some provide fruit in the summer.

It would be nice if the leaves could change into beautiful colors and then go back to green without dropping off, or at least get their green leaves back sooner. But there’s much they can teach us.

Sometimes loss is for our good. The things we want to hang on to would be harmful or prevent us from growing. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

Dead leaves nourish the soil which then helps the tree grow. “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

When leaves are off the trees, we can see things we couldn’t before. On our drive to church during our first fall and winter here, I discovered houses, ponds, animals, and scenery that had been hidden when the trees were leafed out.

A leafless tree “Displays a certain loveliness—The beauty of the bone (John Updike, “November”). Hebrews speaks of ” the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (12:27). When life is stripped to its basics, we see the strength of that core of God’s truth; we see what really matters. Corrie ten Boom said, ” “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.” Or, taken in reverse, when Christ is all you have, you find He is all you need. Thanksgiving in the midst of long nights and barren landscapes reminds us of what’s most important and what bounty we still have.

Sometimes our normal sources of provision fail us. But God provides for us through seasons of loss and barrenness. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Sometimes we have to learn to be content in doing without. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11b-13).

Seasons of rest come between seasons of fruitfulness. No one can give out incessantly without respite. Jesus told His disciples, “’Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31).

Life is transient. “Nothing gold can stay,” as Robert Frost said. Not only do seasons come and go, but life itself will fade from fruitfulness to winter. Hair and skin lose their color, limbs lose their strength. We echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psalm 71:18).This promise to Israel can be applied to God’s children now: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4). “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). For those who know the Lord, life’s winter will give way to eternity’s spring.

Gone, they tell me, is youth.
Gone is the strength of my life:
Nothing remains but decline,
Nothing but age and decay.

Not so, I’m God’s little child,
Only beginning to live;
Coming the years of my prime,
Coming the strength of my life;
Coming the vision of God,
Coming my bloom and my power.

~ William Newton Clarke

After the flood in Noah’s time was over, God said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). Thomas O’ Chisholm picked up this truth in his great hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness:

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Though seasons change,

There is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

What do barren trees teach you?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Wise Woman,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement,
Faith on Fire, Faith ‘n Friends, Grace and Truth)