Thursday, February 26, 2009

Seeds and Trees

According to a famous modern rabbi, the truth of God's Word is never entrusted to mere words alone, but is always associated with gestures and word pictures.. For example, we could teach the topic of personal development using the format of an eloquent philosophical discourse. But that lecture wouldn't have the same lasting impact as a lesson likening personal development to something we can observe--like the growth of a seed, for example. The laws of nature provide visuals which are designed at have a lasting impact.

Our society cherishes the idea of growth through long and short-term goals; and it values having a daily, weekly, and monthly plan to accomplish them. This makes us feel efficient and gives us a sense of control. This 'day-planner' method works well in many areas, but if that's the path we expect spiritual development to follow, we'll experience much frustration and bewilderment.

Isaiah frequently uses the analogy of different kinds of trees to represent classes of people. It occurred to me once while reading Alma 32 that the analogy of the seed being planted could be read from the seed's point of view-since it grows into a tree. Once we understand the process governing the growth of a seed, we will then be able to identify corresponding stages in our own growth.

Imagine that you are a seed - an acorn, for example. You notice a tall majestic oak, and you feel a yearning to become a tree exactly like that. As a self-aware acorn, you realize you need help to accomplish this goal, and you seek assistance from a trusted Gardener. You express to Him your desires to grow into the stature of a mighty oak, and then place yourself in His capable hands, knowing that He will oversee every stage of your development.

To your surprise, you soon find yourself placed in a deep, dark hole, and covered over with lots of dirt. This isn't what you expected - growing on a beach in Tahiti would have been nice. But you decide to trust the Gardener and to have faith that He knows what He's doing.

Next you notice a quickening sensation, and as it continues, your shell (which made you such a attractive acorn) starts falling apart. "What's going on here?! I'm cracking up! Has the Lord abandoned me? Doesn't He want me to grow? How am I supposed to know what my boundaries are?" In the midst of all this confusion, you decide to continue trusting the Gardener, and to wait patiently for the promised upward growth.

Before long, you start to feel new growth beginning. "Now I'm making progress! Oh, I've missed the sun so very much. O dear! Look at that bit of me going down. I thought I was meant to grow upwards, and now look at me! I can't even grow in the right direction!" At this point, you think you remember hearing somewhere something about tap roots being important. And you hope that that's what happening to you now.

Finally, after a very long time, you experience a breakthrough! "At last! Wait.....where's the beautiful sunshine? This dreadful rainstorm is drenching my roots! I don't think I can take much more of this. I NEED SUNSHINE!" By now you're beginning to realize that the Gardener thinks about things differently than you. You struggle to reconcile yourself to His plan, instead of your own immediate desires.

Before long... "Ahhh! Sunshine. I bet it's smooth sailing from here on. Allll riiiight! Ouch! What's that? Someone's digging and aerating around my roots. That doesn't make me feel very secure. And what is that smelly concoction being placed all around me?! Is that dung?!?" Hanging on to a thought that you once heard, you remember that all plants require nutrients. But you wonder just how many of those truck loads of manure will have to be dumped to supply that need.

Of course the Gardener was right. You are becoming a beautiful tree - skinny, but at least bearing some resemblance to the majestic oak. You rejoice in the development of numerous branches that reach in every direction. "Hey! I'm trying really hard here to become an impressive tree, but every time I seem to be making some progress, someone shows up with pruning shears."

We, of course, knowing the laws associated with botany, can confidently predict that after many seasons of sun, rain, dung, and pruning - each in its necessary time -the 'tree' will reach its full potential, and its beauty and shade will be a blessing to many. On some of the "digging and dunging" days, this gives me a lot of hope.


  1. Great post! Among the lessons I've learned along the way is that sometimes his greatest truths are taught symbolically.

    Gospel truths do (most often) have a quality of clear pure simplicity. Yet, sometimes, there is a great depth to gospel truth as well. The depth the gospel holds hold can be likened to a deep pool of crystal clear water which is many times deeper than at first perceived. But in order to fully plumb the depth and breadth of doctrinal pools we must have "the eyes of our understanding opened" (D&C 138:11 ) and our minds "enlightened" by the Spirit of the Lord (D&C 6:15 ). If we are willing to pay the price to gain understanding and enlightenment we may discover depths never attained "previously nor ever before thought of" (Joseph Smith History 1:74 ). If we are pure in heart we will be able to see God in all things (Matthew 5:8). Symbolically as well as through the plain simple word of God.

  2. Love this one. Always good to have a reminder.

  3. This one really puts life into perspective. Thank you Donna, for your insight and creativity.

  4. I remember this from Sunday School. Always makes me laugh when I feel like I'm getting too many nutrients. :)