The Useless Tree

Our son comes home for spring break the end of this week. I am excited to spend time with him, and especially excited that he will attend the Lenten prayer retreat I’m co-leading. Over the years I have tried to teach our children the importance of “useless” time. This is not something easily taught. It must be experienced. The world says, “If you are not making good use of your time, you are useless.” Jesus says: “Come spend some useless time with me.” We still have room if you want to join us as we spend some “useless time” together this Saturday morning.

A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together through a large forest. When they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old, beautiful tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: “Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?” The apprentice looked at his master and said: “No…why?”

“Well,” the carpenter said, because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax.” –adapted from Chuang Tzu, The Inner Chapters

How is this tree useful? How is it useless? How does it glorify God in its branches and shade? Can all creation praise God by simply being what it was created to be? Like the old tree in the parable, we don’t pray to be productive or useful, but to be open and grateful. In prayer and meditation, we can live and be; we can bear or not bear fruit, and we can grow old freely, without being preoccupied with our usefulness. Faithfulness in prayer is its own reward, with or without tangible results. ~Henri Nouwen

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