My Neighbour's Tree
I have mixed feelings about my neighbour’s tree. Most days I love it. For the last week I’ve hated it. Tomorrow I’ll probably love it again. To be honest, it’s probably not the tree I hate, more where it is positioned. Even as I sit to write I’m glancing out a wide double window that provides views across my backyard pool where the tree spreads invasively across our boundary. Not many trees loose their leaves in Australia, but this one does. It also carries a beautiful yellow blossom that falls like snow about this time of year. This would be a reason for joy if it weren’t for the fact that my pool is a convenient collection bowl. For what seems like months on end, my daily ritual includes clearing pool filters, scrubbing decks, skimming the water, unclogging the pump, and altering the water composition to account for the organic matter decomposing. To miss a day is to invite torment into tomorrow’s schedule. Yet even now, I see bees going about their endless labour, a gentle breeze disrupting the leaves while a subtle scent wafts through my open window. Despite the work it makes, I enjoy my neighbour’s tree. Some days I enjoy it so much that I ignore the work it supplies me with. Such has been the last week.
I took a deep breath before heading out to assess the damage. Not to bad, I thought, the water wasn’t too discoloured and the filters didn’t seem too badly fouled with debris. I quickly cleared the pump, rinsed off the robotic vacuum that would creep around the pool floor for the next three hours, then busied myself backwashing the filter. By the time I turned back to the house, disaster had already struck. Whereas 15 minutes earlier the water quality seemed fairly good, the water only slightly discoloured yet still reasonably clear, now the pool looked like a bowl of tepid pea soup. I stood in disbelief as the thick swirling murkiness defied all attempts to gain a view of the bottom. I hadn’t dealt with the filth in my pool quick enough, I’d left it too long, and though it was settled and mostly unseen, it was there nonetheless. All it took was a small disruption to cloud the clarity.
I think it is amazing that God has so ordered the world as to mirror the experiences of our own lives. A quick survey of Scripture will confirm the truth—creation not only sings about the glorious worth of its Creator, but also offers a window into our own hearts. These windows can often be unsettling. Take my pool and the neighbour’s tree for example.
That tree had been dropping leaves and flowers all week, each floating with its own peculiar beauty for a few hours, then slowly becoming waterlogged they were drawn below the surface. Settled on the bottom, flower and leaf began the natural process of breaking down to provide organic nutrients to the soil. But they could not do what God designed for them, they were trapped in my pool. Over the course of days a thick film of organic waste layered the concrete floor, barely perceptible, hardly disturbed, but there. Above it, the water clarity was good, no suspended particles clouded the view, but they were there—just layered in ever increasing depth along the bottom. Until something disturbed it.
I’ve found my life has been like that. Gathered sediment building up in the nooks and crannies of my soul mostly goes unnoticed. That is, until something disturbs the usually still waters. Unhealthy relationships can go on for months, slowly dropping bitterness into our lives. Unhealthy behaviours can go unchecked for years, slowly building a layer of filth hidden somewhere out of view. Unbiblical grasping at power can shape a ministry while barely leaving much of a stain, just a few ruffled feathers along the way, but nothing we can’t handle, right? Yet all along, flowers and leaves are falling unchecked into the pool. I’m not doing the daily work of bringing them up before the father, or my church. Settled on the bottom, undisturbed, they don’t seem like much of a problem. But beware, it only takes a small disruption to cloud the clarity.
Mistakingly, we think that the confusion came with the crisis. But it didn’t. The sediment was there all along. The filth was laying dormant. The pride was lurking below the surface. Soon enough, given the right amount of stirring, the usually still clear waters of our lives will grow clouded and confused.
Just as my pool requires it, so does my heart—the methodical work of daily rooting out the sediment is vital. I can’t move my neighbour’s tree, and I can’t always stop the world from dropping its junk into my life either, but I can take responsibility for it once it’s there. I can come in regular confession. I can keep short accounts. I can ask for forgiveness. I can seek transparency. I can guard against isolation. I can discipline myself in the Word of God. I can daily preach the gospel to myself. I can learn rhythms of grace.
I guess I just need to accept that my neighbour’s tree is here to stay, at least until he decides he’s tired of the mess it makes. My pool is here to stay, it remains one of my children’s favourite past-times through warm Australian summers. So tomorrow, I’ll be back out there, cleaning filters, scrubbing decks, skimming the water, unclogging the pump, and altering the water composition. And it will be worth it.