We left the sliding doors of our minivan open as we slowly drove away from the ranger’s station and into the forest. After the summer heat of Beirut and the coastal towns we’d been visiting the past week, this fresh mountain air was a relief and a balm. The breeze drifted through the car as we rounded each bend of the mountainside, carrying the smell of pine needles and honey.
Today our friends had brought us to see the great Cedars of Lebanon. They grace Lebanon’s flag, they appear in our holy scriptures—the very Temple of God was built by Solomon from their wood. But today, just 13% of Lebanon’s cedar forest remain, after centuries of deforestation by countless invaders and traders. They are an endangered species.
At the top of the hill we parked the car, and a ranger walked us through the glade of ancient trees, some many hundreds of years old. They are slow growing, these stunning trees, their trunks winding around and up with beautiful curves, like a woman becoming comfortable with the strength and allure of her own body.
And their roots go deep, roots that will allow them to endure the snowy winters and dry summers, to thrive in that mountainous terrain.
The memory of wandering under the ancient branches of those trees stays with me in such a vivid way that I can almost smell their pine needles still. They have been speaking to me ever since that trip, and this is what I have heard: we need to go deep before we can go high. But that going deep? It happens as life is going on—as bitter winters freeze us and warm summers satisfy us.
Life doesn’t stop, doesn’t give us long beautiful time-out on retreat until we’re ready, until we’ve grasped our calling. No, it’s when we’re knee deep in the grit and the grime of life, when we’re marching alongside our sisters for the rights of women everywhere; when we’re clamouring for compassion for the refugees at our borders; when we’re making Christmas hampers for the destitute in our communities, and setting up turquoise tables in our front gardens; when we’re juggling kids and marriages and church responsibilities and aging parents and sickness and one too many unanswered prayers.
In those moments, when we lean in to the joy and the struggle, our roots deepen. Roots that are made of love, and mercy, and kindness. Those roots know that no matter how difficult the environment becomes, there is living water to draw upon. Always. Abundantly.
I struggle to know how to respond well to the devastation I see every day in the news. There is so much suffering, so much injustice. The temptation is to wait until I feel prepared, until I feel like I understand the issues in depth, until I have a little more margin in my life.
But I think God is telling me I was created to be a cedar, and my roots will go deep even as I reach my branches up to the sky. God doesn’t pull us out of our lives to prepare us; the preparation happens precisely as we begin to act, until we suddenly realise that this season we thought was the backstage, the rehearsal, is actually the live performance.
Growth can feel slow, and results can feel far off, and life can feel like you’re stuck in the neutral zone. But here in this ordinary, in every small action of love and compassion and righteous anger, something profound is happening under the surface. Roots are going down, way down, to living water and to the rock that cannot be shaken.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” —Eph 3:17-19
We rise out of that rootedness. When we know we are beloved, when we begin right there, then what rises up within us will have the strength, the beauty and the endurance of one of the mighty cedars of Lebanon.