Have you ever hugged a tree? No really, I know that we joke about tree huggers being crazy environmentalists, but I am not talking about that I am asking if you have ever gone out and physically hugged a tree? A while ago sitting in a spirituality class the professor suggested that we all take a moment and hug a tree. Thankfully, the awkwardness of the action subsides quickly when a couple dozen classmates are scattered around the quad each hugging a different tree at the same time.
Once the strangeness of actually hugging a tree fell away, I started to notice something happening, almost as if I were becoming one with the tree, feeling the strength of its trunk and its vulnerability as the wind blew back and forth. After the exercise, we were all amazed at how connected we felt to the trees we had been assigned; we also were amazed at how in almost every case, we felt a spiritual connection to God through nature.
For many in this world connecting to God is a very difficult thing. For many in our society, the hustle and bustle of daily life leaves no apparent time to connect. I tend to think this is an excuse more than the reality. Often when I find people struggling with God, they are experiencing this struggle with a mix of various issues from worry about correctness to fear of being vulnerable. Sometimes I find that people who are struggling the most with spirituality do so because they are either consciously or subconsciously afraid of what God will do when they truly give themselves over to Him.
Nevertheless, it is scary to place trust in God. When we do that we have to let go of what we think is proper and give ourselves over to a reality that, well, is probably unknown and can be extremely scary. I remember the day I called my Dad and told him my decision of pursuing the ministry. To say that he was thrilled would be a lie. Having been responsible for church finances and served as an elder of the church I grew up in, he knew what I was going to have to deal with, probably more than I did. However, when he tried to talk me out of it, I said, still being a junior in college, “we will see where God takes me; I still have a long way until I am ordained.”
After he heard my first sermon a few weeks after that conversation, he was very supportive. However, I can say that going into the ministry was probably harder on my parents than it was for me, since I know that God had some plan, and though I could never, nor still can I put my finger directly on it, I know God is there and I place my trust in God fully. This does not make life easy; however, when times are difficult, and I pray often God will show me a way, when I trust God.
Though even as a pastor, sometimes I get lost in trying to make others happy or rate my success based on the opinion of others. Amazingly, every time I do that, after a while, I notice that I have fallen far afield and find myself spiritually disconnected from God. The interesting thing is that the easy thing to do much of the time is to do what is wanted or expected. To work to make myself or others happy rather than working towards the greater goal of a relationship with God because we do not trust that through the pain or struggle or even just time, God will be there and his Glory will shine. I guess that was the connection I felt when I hugged the tree. I know that when that tree was planted, God had a purpose for it. Standing strong as it did the day I hugged it, I knew that when it was young, it had to endure natural disasters and other storms. However, it was living into what God had intended for it to be as I am living into what God intends for me. When I trust God, I can see how the Church (the whole church) is struggling to live into what God intends from her; we just need to trust and connect.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen