I didn’t know what to say to her, my nursing director who’d found her husband after he’d committed suicide. What can words do when someone has had such a tragic loss?Later, when I was driving home from work, riding through the country, I noticed a huge oak tree in the middle of a pasture. Underneath the summer leaves, I could envision the limbs stretched toward the sun and that reminded me of knotty fingers reaching heavenward, as if in prayer. That stately tree was probably over a hundred years old. I imagined the oak holding my prayers for our grieving director, lifting them to God. In time, my prayer was that she would heal and be sturdy, like the oak.
That day I made that oak a Prayin’ Tree. Each time I passed, it was a physical reminder to pray for her, to be open to ways I might help her through a rough time. It occurred to me that while I went about my day, that tree remained in the same position, holding my prayer, lifting her up. I wanted to tell her about the Prayin’ Tree. But everything was so raw so soon after her husband’s death that I thought it would be better to write her. On a notecard with a tree like the one in the pasture, I told her about the oak and my commitment to pray for her. At least she could read it in private. Later she told me how much it meant and that she had come to look for large oaks that now provided some comfort.
I’d always loved trees, like the ones I mentioned in my last post that I discovered in the Pacific Northwest. As a child, we had a chinaberry that was a treehouse. The bottom limb was so wide our dog could follow behind us. I loved them in landscape paintings and especially liked their silhouette against a blue sky. But now, trees were companions in prayer, a way for me to be reminded of my commitment to go from worry to actively praying, leaving the burden of concern on that tree.
Over the years since that experience with my nursing director, I’ve developed a habit of finding a tree on my morning walks to represent a specific person who needed prayer. When folks share with me concerns about finances or job security, I’ve chosen pine trees with their rich green needles reminding me of money. For those dealing with infertility, I’ve found trees with many branches that represent an extensive family tree.
People often share with me when they’re diagnosed with breast cancer because they know that I’m a survivor. Unfortunately, there have been so many that I’ve had to pick a very large tree and give each woman her own limb. Sometimes after thinking about each of them, praying for their successful treatment, I imagine the woman sitting on that limb swinging her legs like a girl that’s climbed to her favorite perch.
For me, Prayin’ Trees are powerful because they are part of our bountiful earth and remind me of our gracious God. I’m always happiest when I’m outside, and when I’m taking my walks I feel most open to God working in my life and the lives of others. Now with close friends and family who know about my Prayin’ Trees, they’ll say, “I need you to pick a tree for me,” then they tell me what’s in their heart.
That oak in the middle of the pasture with its roots running deep became the symbol of praying for others, depending on God to make them strong. Now I pray that we can be like sturdy oaks, ready to help bear that burden when those around us are in need.
What about you?
Do you have a symbol or method of remembering those you’re concerned about?
How has that helped you to honor your commitment to be consistent in praying and thinking about them?