June 20

Snapped It Right Off

June 20, 2011

Personal Growth

Recently, while I was in China, I talked on the phone with my wife, Donna, who was in Georgia. She told me that the United States had been hit by one of the worst storms in history. Our home was more fortunate than many, but in our backyard the wind did blow down a large oak tree, crushing the end of an outbuilding. Oak trees are among the strongest on earth, but if the ground becomes wet enough, a strong wind can uproot them. I asked if that had been the case with our tree.

"No," she said, "the wind snapped it right off, like six feet from the ground."

Not possible, I thought. I knew this particular tree to be seven to eight feet in circumference, and I've never seen an oak of that size broken by the wind. When I returned home, however, I found that yes, the tree had been snapped off as she described. Curious, I examined the tree more closely and found that the center of the trunk was rotten. I was surprised to realize that in all those years that I'd lived near and under the extensive shade of that apparently healthy tree, it had been affected by a flaw that didn't reveal itself until the wind blew very hard.

We all have flaws—some small, others much bigger—and many of them are not readily apparent under most conditions. We don't notice them until we're stressed by the winds of injustice, inconvenience, and unkindness. And then we snap—in a minor way or in a major meltdown, for a moment or for much longer—and wonder how it could have happened.

Fortunately, we're not exactly like trees, for whom snapping off at the ground is the end of a hundred years or more of existence. We need not regard the moments that we "snap" as tragic events—certainly not the end of the world—but instead can view these experiences as sources of information, enabling us to identify the weaknesses we can gradually eliminate on our way to ever greater emotional and spiritual strength.

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