When I was growing up, I had an old neighbor named Dr. Gibbs. He didn't look like any doctor I'd ever known. Every time I saw him, he wore denim overalls and a straw hat, the front brim of which was green sun glass plastic. He smiled a lot, a smile that matched his hat--old and crinkly and well worn. He never yelled at us for playing in his yard. I remember him as someone who was a lot nicer than circumstances warranted.
When Dr. Gibbs wasn't saving lives, he was planting trees. His house sat on ten acres, and his life's goal was to make it a forest.
The good doctor had some interesting theories concerning plant husbandry. He came from the "no pain, no gain" school of horticulture. He never watered his new trees, which flew in the face of conventional wisdom. Once I asked why. He said that watering plants spoiled them, and that if you water them, each successive tree generation will grow weaker and weaker. So you have to make things rough for them and weed out the weenie trees early on.
He talked about how watering trees made for shallow roots, and how trees that weren't watered had to grow deep roots in search of moisture. I took him to mean that deep roots were something to be treasured.
So he never watered his trees. He'd plant an oak and instead of watering it every morning, he'd beat it with a rolled-up newspaper. Smack! Slap! Pow! I asked him why he did that, and he said it was to get the tree's attention.
Dr. Gibbs went to glory a couple of years after I left home. Every now and again, I walk by his house and look at the trees that I'd watched him plant some twenty-five years ago. They're granite strong now. Big and robust. Those trees wake up in the morning and beat their chests and drink their coffee black.
I planted a couple of trees a few years back. Carried water to them for a solid summer. Sprayed them. Prayed over them. The whole nine yards. Two years of coddling has resulted in trees that expect to be waited on hand and foot. Whenever a cold wind blows in, they tremble and chatter their branches. Sissy trees.
Funny thing about those trees of Dr. Gibbs'. Adversity and deprivation seemed to benefit them in ways comfort and ease never could.
Every night before I go to bed, I check on my two sons. I stand over them and watch their little bodies, the rising and falling of life within. I often pray for them. Mostly I pray that their lives will be easy. "Lord, spare them from hardship." But lately I've been thinking that it's time to change my prayer.
This change has to do with the inevitability of cold winds that hit us at the core. I know my children are going to encounter hardship, and my praying they won't is naive. There's always a cold wind blowing somewhere.
So I'm changing my eventide prayer. Because life is tough, whether we want it to be or not. Instead, I'm going to pray that my sons' roots grow deep, so they can draw strength from the hidden sources of the eternal God.
Too many times we pray for ease, but that's a prayer seldom met. What we need to do is pray for roots that reach deep into the Eternal, so when the rains fall and the winds blow, we won't be swept asunder.
from "Front Porch Tales" by Philip Gulley copyright 1997