What I Learned From Staring at a Tree

When I think of the term “meditation”, one of the first pictures that pops into my head is of Rafiki the monkey in The Lion King, sitting cross-legged in a tree, humming with his eyes closed, and pressing his middle finger and thumb together in each hand. It’s a big stretch to get from Rafiki the monkey, to meaningful meditation as a spiritual discipline.

Meditation is a spiritual discipline that sounds a lot more mystical and intimidating than it actually is. Chances are good that most Christians who spend extended time praying have actually “meditated” without intentionally trying to do so.

Here’s how I found that out:

A few weeks ago, Ben wanted to do something special for me on one of his days off, so he offered to take care of the girls so that I could go down to the lake for an hour or two. He knows how much I love to do that – it’s my peaceful spot. I have spent hours and hours down there, enjoying the view, thinking, praying.

It was kind of a cold and windy day, and none of my usual spots were very comfortable, so I did something totally different, and went to sit by one of the cabins. I couldn’t see the lake quite as well from where I was sitting because of all the trees in the way, but everything is so beautiful here at camp that it doesn’t really matter what direction you look in, you’ll get a good view.

But something unexpected happened to me as I sat there.

I sat there for a long time, just unwinding. The day had been busy, and I had many, many thoughts crowded into my head. For about half an hour, I just kept releasing things, one at a time. A worry or concern would pop into my mind, and I would take it, pray it over, and surrender it to God. I would sit there for a moment, and then another thought would come, and I would do the same thing. After a long time of doing this, over and over, I felt much quieter, more at rest.

I sat there for a while, not really thinking about anything in particular, staring off at nothing. After a while, it started to register that I had been staring at a tree that was right in front of me. I started to study it more closely – I thought about the roughness of the bark, the patterns, the colors, and just let it sink in how beautiful bark is. I don’t ever really notice bark. But something about it got my attention that day. I can’t really put into words how impacted I was just by God’s creation of… bark.

photo © 2005 Mikhail Esteves | more info(via: Wylio)

Then I started to think about the other trees surrounding me. There were so many, all so beautiful. I started to think about how old they were, how long they had been growing there, part of camp for much longer than I have been. I started to feel very small – not in a bad way, just in a way that made me feel very much a part of all of God’s creation. So much has come before me, much will come after, and all of it with the purpose of glorifying God in whatever way He intended it to, all of it created by His hand, for His glory.

It was just me and the trees out there.

It’s really quite difficult to describe my thought process in all of this, or even to explain why it was all so meaningful. But it all come together in my mind to create this amazing experience of worshiping God, and enjoying His creation. Becoming aware again of how I’m just a small part of this huge, amazing plan in this beautiful world.

I sat there in the quiet, and the verse that kept coming to me was, “Be still and know that I am God.

Be still. Everything was so still. The trees were still and I was still. I kept wanting to be productive. I kept wanting to think up new things to write about. I kept wanting God to inspire me so that I could keep DOING. And yet I kept being reminded to be still. Don’t do anything, don’t accomplish anything, stop working, stop planning, stop writing blog posts in my head, and just be still. It can be so hard to just be in God’s presence. I know that I don’t need to earn His love, and I don’t need to keep trying to be good enough, but my actions would suggest otherwise. I need many more afternoons of meditating on the bark of a tree, remember to just be still.

I came back so refreshed, feeling like my thoughts had gone on a good wandering.

And then a few days later I read what Richard Foster had to say about meditation. And it turns out that all of what I had been thinking about had been….meditating. I wasn’t trying to. It just kind of happened.

I learned that meditating is basically emptying your mind of all the clutter of this world, and allowing God to fill it with Himself. It is possible to meditate in a way that isn’t specifically spiritual – it just ends at the emptying part. But because of my relationship with Jesus, the experience goes one step further, to the point where I am filled with the things of Christ.

God “speaks” to us in so many different ways – through His Word, through creation, through experiences, etc. This time, it happened to be the bark on a tree, but each time, He teaches me something new and different. Meditation happens whenever I quiet my thoughts and my heart, and allow God to fill me with Himself. Meditation happens when I sit there, “chewing” on His words – allowing it to soak in, really letting it rest in my mind, not just reading straight through a passage of the Bible without stopping to take it all in.

I realize that there are a lot of different opinions about meditation. There is a lot of information out there about how meditation is New Age, and that emptying your mind is dangerous, because Satan can disguise himself and control a person’s thoughts when they are in this vulnerable position.

But I don’t feel like meditation is something to be afraid of. I think that we should always be careful to “test” our thoughts – bring them to God and ask Him to convict us of anything that doesn’t come from Him, and hold them up against what the Bible has to say.

And if we do those things, then I think it’s okay to rest in God – to trust that He will guide and direct our thoughts, and bring us to a place where our perspective is put back in it’s proper place.

So those are my thoughts on meditation. Go find some verses or a great sunset, and do some meditating!

My new favorite quote on meditating : Muddy water becomes clear if you only let it sit still for a while. (No idea where Ben got it from, but when I heard him say it, the visual image stuck with me!)