This quote sounds very empowering. It has also been said that the choices we make control our destiny. But I wonder how much control do we really have over the circumstances of our lives based on the choices we make? The reality is that so much of what happens is happening to us beyond our control, and it is not our fault.
I did not choose for my father to die when I was twelve years old. I did not choose for my mother to die five days after my wedding. I did not choose to battle infertility for seven years and then have a special needs child. These things happened beyond my ability to choose, and none of those events was my fault. Likewise, many people do not have a choice in their life’s circumstance, and they have very little opportunity to change their lots in life. I mean, can I honestly go to the slums of India and tell those living there that they just need to make better choices in order to have a better life? As if it was their fault that they are there and as if they do not live in a system that traps them in poverty. This insight is based on the fact that I saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire. I have zero knowledge of the history or current events of India beyond that.
Does a tree have a choice about where it is planted? What tree would not choose to be planted in the richest soil with access to sunlight and rain? The vast majority of the trees in the world are not even planted by human hands. They are planted without a thought or a care. Many trees sprout from a seed haphazardly dropped by a squirrel or a bird, or the seed was blown by the wind and landed when the wind ran out of air. Trees have to withstand all kinds of weather and hardships—lightning storms, high winds, fires, humans who chop them down to use their wood, etc. They do not have the opportunity or the ability to move out of harm’s way to a better spot in the forest.
What about us? Just like trees, we continue to grow, but sometimes we get pruned. The Biblical allusion to pruning is that a tree is pruned so that it can grow stronger and produce more fruit. I sometimes feel that I get pruned so that I will stay small and mediocre. It feels like every time I reach out a branch, someone is there with a chainsaw to cut it back. No matter. Just as a tree cannot help but continue to grow, I will continue to reach out, though perhaps in a direction away from the chainsaw.
What is it that determines the strength of a tree? We can all agree that the tree’s true strength is not in its beautiful foliage or the interesting twists of its branches or even the sweetness of the fruit it produces. The strength of a tree is determined by the depth of its root system and the quality of the soil in which it is planted. Yet, while a tree does not have a choice about where it is planted, we do. Most often we are able to grow our roots deeper in the soil in which our lives are planted and draw from the rich nutrients and water deep below. Sadly, sometimes as we dig deeper into the soil beneath us we discover that it is barren.
While adversity is beyond my control, I am fortunate in that I do have a choice when faced with difficulties. I have a choice to take a chance to uproot myself in order to find richer soil in which to plant myself so that I can change and grow and produce fruit. Adversity unveils this choice. Adversity causes me to consider the choices I can make to bring change to my circumstance. I need to make a decision about whether I stay and tolerate a barren environment or whether I uproot myself and seek out richer soil.
There is much to consider when considering making a change. I understand that I really cannot choose what I want in every situation, because my life is not my own. My life is not about me. I am connected to family, friends, coworkers, bosses—all of whom are affected by any choice I make for myself. I need to consider the ramifications of my choices. Is it worth uprooting myself, or should I just tolerate my current situation and hope that something will happen to bring the barren soil back to life? I don’t have an answer, but I do have hope in knowing that
“…God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).