I enjoy short stories, partly because they are short and get to the point quickly! I read much more slowly than I would like. But I also enjoy them because they tend to communicate powerful messaging with incredible beauty and creativity. Just as God shaped chaos into order through the strength of His Word, these writers point to a greater Author when their voices reach out into the tedious chaos of life and bring flourishing through the spread of ideas and heart.
Jean Giono’s “The Man Who Planted Trees” is one example that I read last year. It was published in 1953 and tells a story set in 1913 in the Alps in Provence, southern France. A shepherd named Elzéard Bouffier set out with the ambitious goal of re-foresting the barren valley in which he lived by planting one hundred acorns a day for decades. His successful results transformed the landscape and brought life and beauty to a place desperately in need of restoration.
The narrator of the story writes of multiple interactions with Bouffier. In the first, he records the beginning of the planting process, but years later, he begins to return often and sees the fruit of the shepherd’s labors which includes far more than the desired trees. He sees new streams, entire ecosystems which had not been there before, and the flourishing of people who benefitted from his friend’s selfless and diligent work.
Something stood out to me about this tale. I recognize that it was written very purposefully as an eco-fable, which is important in its own right. But from my perspective, I also noticed that this story describes the work that each of us, as followers of Jesus, have ownership of.
As under-shepherds to our Messiah, we find ourselves in a broken world, desolate of the life that He comes to bring which flows from His very essence (John 14:6). We now have a decision to take part in His work or to refrain. If we do refuse this work, we stand silently and watch as pain and struggle overwhelms the landscape, often draining our surroundings even further of life by taking others rather than propagating what is necessary for their flourishing.
However, if we receive the call to the Great Commission by teaching about the love of our God for the lost (Matthew 28:16-20), we respond to the two greatest commandments by loving Him and others with everything that we are (Mark 12:29-31), and we join in on the life-giving mission of propagating the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26), the landscape becomes unrecognizable. As opposed to a world that fosters dissension, hatred, fear, and judgment, the goodness of Christ and His kingdom will take root and produce the freshness of His Spirit by which the benefits to others will overflow (Matthew 13:32). Flourishing and nourishment will overtake a land barren of hope (Isaiah 59). Our work in His power will draw in others as they see the healing that takes parched lands and create a foretaste of the eternal city which shines with the light of His glory (Matthew 6:10, 5:16).
I learned through this short story that God was asking that I overcome the fear that I so quickly default to and that I interrupt my selfish tendencies that bring pain into the lives of others as I neglect His mission for the Church. Instead, He invited me to get my hands dirty, like Bouffier. He gave me the hard work of being selfless in ways that are counter to my nature. It’s daunting to look decades into the future and see what’s required for this kind of investment, but to those who see God’s purpose and promises being fulfilled through the loving dedication of His Church, responding in this way allows us to take part in work that is far too beautiful to deny.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff