Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Faith and fruit trees

I love the exposition on faith in the 32nd chapter of Alma.  And who doesn't?  Its one of the most clear and enlightening passages in all scripture.  Comparing faith to a seed helps us all understand a fairly abstract concept a lot more easily.

I've thought about that passage a lot, and how it relates to my own faith.  I think it is significant that Alma compared faith not just to a seed, but to a fruit tree seed.  Many plants grow and blossom and produce a great deal in a single season.  But then the fall frosts and winter snows come, and they whither away and have to be planted anew each spring.

Starting a fruit tree from a seed is, initially, a more delicate process.  One must be careful to water the seed regularly, but also be careful not to drown it, make sure it gets enough light but doesn't get sunburned, and make sure it is planted in good soil.  One must be careful to weed regularly, since such a little plant can get choked out by aggressive, noxious weeds rather easily.  The first year or two of the process will probably produce only a small plant, and little to no fruit.  It is not unusual for a fruit tree to take 4-5 years to begin producing fruit at all, though if you are caring for it well, you will see a great deal of upward growth fairly rapidly in that time. 

Our young faith is very much like that.  So new, still vulnerable, not yet strongly rooted, it is easily choked or drowned or burned if we are not careful.  But if we work hard at cultivating it, at ridding our lives of noxious influences and working hard to be in good places, we may not see a lot of fruit at first, but we will see and feel that upward growth, that leafing out and reaching for the sun, and our faith will get stronger.

And, unlike those annuals that wither and die out as the winter approaches, that tree gets strong enough to survive the cold winter.  Fruit trees are quite resilient.  They live through winter blizzards and sometimes survive bug infestations and careless climbers, and still make the world more radiant each spring with their blossoms, and nourish the world with the delicious fruit they produce.  Sometimes they lose a limb or two, or end up with a scarred trunk, and it is not unusual for such a tree to take 10 years to reach full maturity, producing copious fruit.  But it takes quite a lot to cut down or kill those mature trees.  They can survive a harsh world and still thrive.

I grew up in a fairly harsh climate, where my parents grew many beautiful flowers and had a few small orchards.  I noticed quite young that when it started to get chilly, several beautiful potted plants would be moved inside so that they could survive the cold winter, at just the same time that the firmly rooted apple trees were starting to drip with big, red apples.  I think that we all have a wise gardener who knows our abilities and limitations, and will wheel us inside for the winter, so to speak, when our roots aren't deep enough and our bark not thick enough to withstand the wind and cold and snow.  

When that tree is finally strong enough to survive the onslaught of the natural world and spends a first winter out in the cold, it can feel like punishment.  We feel that somehow we are being attacked for being good, when in fact the world has always been full of blizzards and torrents and scorching heat, we simply didn't realize how much we had been shielded from them.  In our early years of faith, we submit to the grafting and trimming and shaping of the gardener, because we trust that it will make us the the most beautiful, healthy version of ourselves.  But as we are moved from the shelter of the home or greenhouse and nature unleashes its fury on us, we must remember that, though in our young and undeveloped state we needed that shelter, sitting in a pot in the corner can never possibly enable us to push our roots deep and wide.  Out in the open, we can feel the full glory of the sunshine, the delight of spring rain, and spread our branches high.  The very space that exposes us to the travails of the natural world enables us to produce the most fruit.

When you feel like your faith isn't producing much fruit, look to others who have more mature trees than you do, remember that they once had young saplings that weren't producing a lot of fruit.  And if you feel you are freezing or are scorched by the heat of life, remember the wise gardener, who trusts that you have the maturity to overcome that trial, that he believes you are ready to reach your branches a bit higher and dig your roots a bit deeper, and that ultimately he has power over all the elements.  He will not abandon you, but will help you to grow stronger through that opposition, to produce more fruit.

"Even if your efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in direct proportion to them will flood your soul."  Growth is an ongoing process, so be patient with yourself.  Doubt not, fear not.  Just as apple seeds will produce more apples, faith begets faith.

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