Our property is a sloping wooded lot. The house is built into the hillside, which drops off sharply a few feet from the deck. And boy. Does it ever slope. We added a homemade wooden staircase to help us walk a ways down the hillside. Over the years it has slid further down the hill, so there’s nothing to hold onto as you slowly and carefully make your way down the slope. It’s treacherous, to say the least.
I recently bought a couple of trees for our property. The redbud has been planted near the deck to provide a bit of shade and beauty in the spring. But the other tree has been planted at the edge of the woods. I chose this tree for a couple of reasons. It doesn’t need a lot of sunlight in order to thrive. It won’t get extremely tall. And it will attract swallowtail butterflies. It’s great for the environment. It’s called a hop tree.
The owner of the small nursery where I bought the trees was giving me instructions on how and where to plant this hop tree. She said it would do very well if planted on the slope of the woods. So that’s what I set out to do. Plant this small helpless looking tree on the steep slope. After scoping out the exact location, I gingerly made my way to the spot where the tree would be planted. As I began digging the hole, I realized I could be in trouble if I didn’t have a sure footing underneath. My foot slipped and I reached out to grab hold of a small but firmly planted tree. It swayed, but it could hold my swaying. For a short while, at least.
I began to dig and realized there were many roots and rocks in this dirt. So I worked even harder to dig the hole as deep and twice as wide as the container holding the tree. As I slung the dirt aside with each shovelful, I hoped I would be able to reach it to cover the hole once the tree was securely in place. I was afraid to move from my position, because the terrain was so steep. This was hard work for a physically unfit person. But I kept at it. I had a plan and a purpose for this new tree.
As I was digging the hole, I felt that I needed to stand facing the woods at all times. Just moments before, I had seen a large buck with a full rack of antlers watching me. I know that in mating season deer can attack humans, so I wanted to be careful. So, not only was I digging a hole in a sloping terrain, I was on full alert for any sign of the deer.
This hop tree won’t grow too tall or too big. It’s not the type to do so. And that’s ok. It’s a tree that will grow and thrive under all the canopy trees in the woods. This tree will support the native ecosystem in its surroundings. It has a job to do, and the size of the tree doesn’t really matter. It will still do the work it is meant to do.
This hop tree is called an understory tree. Understory trees or brush grow under the crown of the huge trees in the forest. Some would say these trees don’t reach their full potential. Apparently, they don’t have to in order to survive. But they can still do much good for the forest. They have a job to do whether or not they are stunted in growth. Understory trees can grow and thrive in shady areas. They don’t need full sun in order to survive. Some birds will only nest in understory trees. They aren’t attracted to the taller, canopy trees. Each tree or shrub in the forest will help the forest to thrive. They all have a purpose.
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Colossians 3:23
Understory trees tell the story of the forest that’s not typically told. They’re wispy. They bend and move easily with the strong winds. They don’t grow to their full potential, but they live a full life regardless. They bounce back when pushed. They go with the flow. Their leaves turn colors in the fall just as the leaves of the canopy trees. They live under the canopy trees but above the forest floor. They’re a productive and essential part of the life of the forest.
The canopy trees are elegant and standoffish. They get everyone’s attention with their height. Their crown of leaves is beautiful. And the width of their trunks make them seem extra sturdy. But there’s no bend to them. They can snap and break under the pressure of heavy winds. They have massive strength, but they can easily topple when a huge gust blows in. They have no flexibility.
Sure. The forest needs the over achievers. The canopy trees show strength and endurance. They’ve lived many years and have reached their full potential. They provide all the shade and spectacle. It wouldn’t be a forest without the trees. But each tree has its own story to tell.
Later in the evening after the tree was planted, as we sat on the deck we heard a commotion in the woods. I stood to watch two bucks fighting. They were pushing and shoving each other, each trying to win dominance. We could hear their antlers clacking against each other. One buck was standing up for his territory, while the interloper was trying to claim it. It was very interesting to witness this natural act of wildlife. Eventually, they both ran off. Later, only one buck returned. The territory was his.
I’ve never been the brightest. I’ve never been the smartest. Or the fastest. But I’m consistent. I’m resilient. I’m aware of my surroundings. I’m self aware. I’m an introvert. I’m never the life of the party. But I live a good life. Compared to extroverts or geniuses, one might think I’m a failure in life. I don’t seek attention. I’m quiet. I keep to myself. I don’t want to manage people in a workplace. I don’t need to be the shining star. But I want to do my work well. I want to be thought of as a considerate, kind person. So I must act like one.
Have I reached my full potential? How does someone even calculate that?
Many people aren’t looking to be the life of the party. Or the spokesperson of the group. Some are content being the understory who makes sure the work runs smoothly. They see to it that there’s flexibility when things change suddenly. They make sure all the bases are covered. And they know what bases must be covered. Yet, they’re not necessarily the ones on stage receiving the applause or the trophy. But their job is needed, nonetheless. Never discount those who are quiet or dependable. They don’t cause a scene, but the scene would be so undone without them. Everyone has a part to play in this life. Not just those with a swagger or a loud voice.
Life has a way of placing us in unexpected and even unwanted situations. We can still work hard and thrive wherever we’re placed. As believers, our work is always for the Lord regardless of our title or duties. Whether the work seems menial or glorious, it’s necessary work. Someone must do it. And when placed in that situation, then it’s our work. Let’s do it with joy and thanksgiving. Everything lasts for a season.
Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. Ecclesiastes 5:18