Why don’t trees freeze to death in winter?
After all, if you or I stood outside naked for several months in sub-zero temperatures, we’d soon be turned into frosty statues.
Trees can’t burrow into the ground and hibernate like bears, and they can’t fly south like migratory birds. They’re fixed in place, at the mercy of the elements.
And yet they somehow survive through the cold depths of winter. Why don’t they turn to ice, since, like other living things, they’re made mostly of water?
Their trick is something called “hardening.”
In autumn, trees in cold climates undergo a change whereby water flows out of their cells. The concentrated sugars, proteins, and acids left behind act as a potent antifreeze. The water now in the spaces between the cells is so pure that ice crystals can’t form. This ultra-pure water can be cooled to -40 degrees F and still remain an ice-free liquid.
Pretty cool, isn’t it?
But what is it that triggers the hardening?
Ah, this is where we can learn a lesson from the trees.
When you read a cake or muffin recipe, it will usually instruct you to preheat your oven and get your baking pans prepared before describing how to make the dessert itself.
But why do it in this order? Why not make the batter first, and let it sit there in the bowl while you leisurely grease or line the baking pans and let the oven slowly heat up?
There’s a very good reason to have everything prepared before you start the actual baking, and it has to do with how leaveners behave.
As soon as a raising agent like baking soda comes into contact with the liquids in your cake batter, a chemical reaction starts to take place. Gases are generated, and bubbles begin forming. You want those bubbles to stay trapped inside the cake to give it loft and airiness.
If you let the batter sit there on the counter for too long, the gases would escape into the air. This would prevent your finished cake from being as light and fluffy as it could be. So as soon as the leavening agent is added and mixed in, put the batter into the prepared pan and get it into the heated oven as quickly as you can.
It’s the same way in life, isn’t it?
When God adds the circumstance or person that will be a catalyst to change your situation, things often begin moving very fast. If you’re not ready, it might catch you off guard. You may end up stumbling instead of stepping confidently into the new level God has in mind for you. You might not rise as high as you could have.
They say cooking is an art, but baking is a science.
Part of what makes baking scientific is that it often calls for exact timing.
When you cook a roast or a turkey in the oven, the estimated cooking time can vary. The meat will be in the oven for several hours, and the recipe might give you as much as a half-hour window to start checking for doneness.
But when you’re baking cookies, the recipe will sometimes only give you a two-minute span to remove them from the oven. You have to be on your toes so you don’t miss this window, but at least you have a greater degree of certainty as to when the baking process will be over.
We humans crave certainty, don’t we? And that’s especially true when we’re going through difficult things in our personal lives.
Wouldn’t you love it if God told us exactly when our time of suffering would end?
Have you ever had a day when you simply needed chocolate?
Maybe you faced some problems, and needed a pick-me-up. Or you were dealing with a heartbreak and needed a balm for your ragged emotions.
And you knew that milk chocolate just wouldn’t cut it, let alone white chocolate.
It required the stronger stuff. You needed to bring out the big guns to help you cope with your challenges:
Only the intense flavour and strength of chocolate with over 80% cocoa solids would do the trick. Nothing else would suffice.
Sometimes we reach a similar point in our spiritual lives, too.
The Christian life isn’t all a bed of roses. Oftentimes we face desperate circumstances, and we may find ourselves in a heap on the floor, crying our eyes out.
Maybe we’ve received a scary diagnosis from the doctor. We might have been let go from our job. Or our family might be in crisis: our marriage is in tatters or our children have gone astray.
We need help that is grounded in the gritty reality of what we’re facing. Sunny bromides like “Don’t worry, be happy” just won’t cut it.
We need to bring out the big guns.
We need the Psalms.
It’s a truism that it’s easier to destroy than to create.
I saw this in action recently in my own neighbourhood.
A two-storey house had been damaged internally by fire, although it looked salvageable from the outside. Nonetheless, the owners and insurers agreed that it should be demolished and a new house built in its stead.
I imagine the original house had taken months to build. It probably involved scores of people in its construction: contractors, carpenters, bricklayers, roofers, electricians, plumbers, and the like.
But it only took one man with one large backhoe a few hours to raze that building to the ground.
It was shocking how quickly the structure was destroyed. What could have lasted for decades was levelled in the space of a morning.
A cautionary tale, don’t you think?
If we’re not careful, we can see the same thing happen in our own lives.
Around this time of year, an unwanted visitor makes its way into many a gardener’s life.
I’m not talking about weeds or pests, although we certainly have to contend with those.
Rather, I’m referring to garden envy.
It starts out when we’re visiting the gardens of friends or neighbours. At first, we admire their lush plantings and attractive landscaping.
If we’re not careful, however, this appreciation can morph into envy. We think, I wish I had roses as beautiful as hers. Or, if only I had room in my yard for a gazebo like he does.
This envy can then develop into disenchantment with what we have. Why am I stuck with so much shade in my yard? Why can’t we afford an inground pool?
We can even become resentful of our comparatively meagre gardens, when we should be grateful to have a garden at all: many people don’t.
Envy is something we need to nip in the bud, whether it relates to our gardens or our lives.
We get into trouble when we start comparing ourselves to others. This is true even in spiritual matters.
It’s nice to have a bodyguard, isn’t it?
Someone who watches over you, keeps tabs on what’s happening to you, and is ready to step in if it looks like you’re headed for trouble.
Even flocks of geese have a bodyguard of sorts. The individual bird which fills this role is called a sentinel.
While the other geese are feeding, individual geese will take turns acting as protectors for the rest of the gaggle. These sentinels will stand guard, necks erect, alert to any threat from predators. They have keen eyesight and hearing, and will honk loudly to warn the others if they sense any danger.
Geese make such effective guards that we humans have often taken advantage of their services. We’ve employed geese at farms and warehouses as living alarm systems, and have even used them to guard U.S. Air Defense Command installations in Germany!
We could all use a sentinel like that in our lives, couldn’t we?
Did you know that if you’re a believer, you already have a “bodyguard”?
It’s God Himself.
Sometimes there can be magic hidden within the most unlikely of places.
Take tree burls, for instance (or burrs, to our British friends).
These rounded, knotty growths found on tree trunks can seem very ugly.
Burls form when the tree is under some kind of stress, causing bud growth cells to develop in an abnormal way. Such stressors might include bacteria, viruses, fungi, insect infestations, or wounds. A burl is visible evidence of how the tree is dealing with these attacks.
They look rather like tumours, and mar the otherwise regular pattern of the bark.
Surely there’s nothing good about burls?
But there is.
Their unsightly exterior hides magnificence.
Few people know that inside these contorted and gnarled outgrowths is concealed something wonderful. The wood that burls yield is unusual and highly figured, making it valued and sought after by woodworkers and artists.
This unique wood is prized for its beauty and rarity, and is often used for veneers or inlays in fine furniture, trim or panelling inside luxury cars, and for household objects like bowls or pens, which become works of art.
Do you have a few “burls” in your life? Some knotty problems that have grown into a tangled mess?
Wonder if God could ever bring something good out of them?
Have you been prone to “doomscrolling” recently?
Doomscrolling is a new word that’s been coined to describe the habit of obsessively consuming a large quantity of negative online news.
The committee of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary even named “doomscrolling” their Word of the Year for 2020.
Humans have a natural tendency to pay more attention to bad news, but the doomscrolling trend has accelerated during the pandemic.
We compulsively check our news apps and social media feeds, endlessly scanning the latest ominous headlines. We feed ourselves a steady diet shocking or disheartening news about rising COVID-19 case numbers, hospital intensive care units filling up, businesses shutting down, political instability or even weather woes.
We can’t seem to help ourselves, even when we sense that doomscrolling is probably detrimental to our mental health. All this bad news saturating our minds can leave us depressed, anxious, angry or hopeless.
We need an antidote to the feeling of despair that doomscrolling can produce.
I’d like to propose that we adopt a new habit:
While going for a walk recently at a track in my neighbourhood, I noticed something that hadn’t been there before.
There was now a second path parallel to the old gravel track circling the playing fields. This new footpath had been beaten into the grass over the summer and fall by people wanting to jog while still physically distancing from those on the main path.
It got me thinking how events in our lives often make us forge a new path.
For just about all of us, the coronavirus has diverted our life path onto an unexpected detour. Some of us may have experienced a job loss or had our health impacted. All of us have had our daily routines disrupted and our plans upended.
We’re having to travel a new path, one we’ve never taken before.
But the good news is that God knows which way we should go, and will lead us in the right direction.