Old Growth

Post by Ashley Bowie - Sapling in progress.

I’ve been a Christ follower for a majority of my life. At about the age of eleven I walked quietly to an alter during the midweek worship service at my church. The children’s pastor came and put an arm on my shoulder and asked me what I wanted to pray about. I told her I wasn’t good at being good, I didn’t know how to do all the right things all the time. I don’t remember much else about what we said, but we prayed together, I asked forgiveness for my sins and prayed that Jesus would live in my heart and teach me how to be good.

I’d like to tell you that I have never once wavered from my faith since that day. I wish I could say that I learned how to be good and am now an expert at it. But you’re smart, and you would know I was lying. In fact, from that day on, I did devote myself to being good. I read my bible, I prayed, I attended church, memorized scripture, went to church camp and worshiped my God with abandon. I learned which sins were socially unacceptable, and what sort of girl I was supposed to be. Though I was young, and though “church culture” has a tendency to capitalize on the idea that we are to “be good,” I did have some deep, life changing moments with God during that time. In spite of all the world’s best efforts to distract me with religion, I can recall the simplest moments sitting alone with God and knowing with certainty that I belonged to Him and He loved me.

One of the sweetest memories I have, is coming in from swimming in midsummer, exhausted, all played out and happy. I fell onto my bed in the late afternoon and let the sun warm me, my mind was wandering around all of the fun I had that day, and landed abruptly on Jesus. I picked up my bible and read:

1 John :18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I laid back on my bed and breathed pure truth into my lungs. My heart was overwhelmed there by the fearless love of God. Call it the sprouting of a seed, the first inclination that I did not want to “be good” I just wanted to be near to God.

I have sinned a lot since those sweet days. In fact, I think I am even worse at being good than I was as a child. I have fought depression, anxiety, anger, fear and mistrust in my good Father. I have manipulated scripture to “mean” what I wanted it to, and I have ignored God and my bible for months on end.

But the little sapling from so long ago has remained firm, has grown to a full tree that I cling to, remembering that though it costs Him everything, God is not afraid to love me. I have also come to understand grace in a deeper and more personal way than I could have imagined. I have tasted the sweetness of God’s presence, and His abounding love when I thought He would rather not deal with me at all. I have taped the surface of what it means to love God without fear, the way He loves me.

There are forests around here known as old growth forests. They are the ones that have been around for at least 150 years, most for longer. The redwood forest is one of the oldest, and is thought to date back at least one thousand years. These trees have survived bleak winters, dry summers, fires, insect plagues and worst of all, humans. Old growth forests have extremely fertile soil and are host to more varieties of plant and animal life than other forests.

Any culture has its fads, and Christians are no different. We seem to be in a fad right now, where we are looking for the most clever way to say a thing. We want the raw truth, sure, but give it to us in a phrase we can remember and pass on to people who need a golden nugget of wisdom.
In all the storms and battles of my life, when I was at the very lowest point, it was not a cleverly packaged phrase that I wanted to hear, or that I needed to pull me out of my self pity or shine a light on my dark fears. It was that ancient oak, born of the simplest sweetest moment of love between my savior and me. It was the ancient wisdom that says; Jesus loves me, I am sure of this.

Isaiah 61:3 “...to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

Every mighty oak began as a seed. Every branch in you that bears fruit began as a seed and has been cultivated by the omniscient hand of the Father from the beginning until now. The longer you have a faith, the longer you are in Christ, the easier it can become to sort of forget or become bored of the old simple truths. They are like hymns that just tell you how it is, in simple repeatable verse, accompanied by simple instruments, beautiful in their place. Altogether forgettable if you aren’t paying attention. 

But listen, let it fill you; Perfect love that drives away fear, a garment of praise instead of despair, Love has nothing to do with punishment, joy instead of mourning, Oaks of righteousness, made for the display of HIS splendor. These are the truths by which God captured my heart. These are the truths I return to when the lights are off and my soul is alone except for God. 

Life can be bleak and difficult at times, you may not see any new growth, or feel like you are accomplishing any good at all. You may feel alone or lost or even too far gone for God to be willing to rescue you. Maybe you feel like God is treating you unfairly. In my most difficult moments, it was not new understanding or clever wording that made me turn and run into God’s waiting arms. It was the old growth, that has found me in the quiet, the ancient wisdom that was a seed when God designed the world, it sprouted in my heart as I was laying in the warm afternoon summer sun. It has been my source and sustenance through so many storms and has been there after I’ve wandered off, and come trudging through the rain and mud, home again.