The Problem of the Hickory Tree
From the March 1911 issue of The Christian Science Journal by Louise Knight Wheatley
A certain hickory tree which shades our lawn has lately been the means of teaching so valuable a lesson that its story is here told for the benefit of others who, figuratively speaking, may have hickory trees on their own premises.
Each year when the arrival of spring causes the other trees to put forth their leaves, this one stands for weeks in gaunt and bare unloveliness. The sun may shine its brightest, the soft winds may blow, the warm summer showers may beat as they will, but there is no response; while all around is growing green and beautiful, it alone remains coldly aloof, taking no part and apparently wishing to have no share in the general awakening. Yet we are never concerned about it, for we know that after a while tiny buds will appear, which will swell and grow without unfolding until they stand all over its gnarled branches like stiff little Christmas candles. Then perhaps there comes a night of rain followed by a day of brilliant sunshine, and lo, a miracle is wrought! The Christmas candles soften and uncurl into baby leaves, which hang for a few days like feathery tassels, and then imperceptibly assume such shape and color that, almost before we are aware, our stubborn old hickory tree stands clothed in a garment of green which is a delight all the season long.
Once, as we were enjoying its luxuriant shade, the thought came, Why can we not be just as patient with our loved ones who are having their struggle in getting started, as we are with trees? People, as well as trees, have characteristics of their own, and is there any occasion to fret and worry because all mental processes are not alike? The violet pushes through the wet leaves at almost the first breath of springtime, while the rose requires weeks of care and vigilance on the part of the gardener before it reaches its full splendor. Yet who can say that one is more lovely than the other? Is the violet in any position to criticize the rose, or should the rose judge and condemn the violet? Each is simply unfolding after its own nature, and neither self-righteousness on the part of the violet, nor self-condemnation on the part of the rose, will facilitate the growth of either. Then shall we have less patience with our brother and our sister than we have with the grass of the field, “which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven”?
Suppose we look back and honestly ask ourselves if we have always used the same simple common sense in our dealings with people that we used in regard to our hickory tree. As we passed back and forth beneath its bare branches, did it ever occur to us, for instance, to upbraid it for its slowness, or to stop and inquire why it did not begin to get green like the other trees? I am quite certain that we never shed tears over it, nor did we nag at it, and make its life miserable by continually begging it to put out a few leaves—”just to please us!” Neither did we call its attention to the weeping willow next door, and remark how happy those people must be with a fine tree like that in their yard. We just went quietly along, like reasonable people, attending to our own affairs, and feeling sure that the hickory tree was doing the same. Because it grew in our yard and belonged to us was no reason why it should lose its individuality, nor its absolute freedom to work out its own salvation in its own way.
Mrs. Eddy has reminded us of the need to “remember that the world is wide; that there are a thousand million different human wills, opinions, ambitions, tastes, and loves; that each person has a different history, constitution, culture, character, from all the rest; that human life is the work, the play, the ceaseless action and reaction upon each other of these different atoms” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 224). Then why grow discouraged? Because no evidence of a change is visible to the material senses does not mean that it may not already be taking place in human consciousness. No one saw the inward struggle through which the tree had to pass before the hard bark softened sufficiently to let the first bud appear; and in like manner no one sees the conflict through which some natures grope their way toward the light. The heart’s innermost processes are not always revealed, even to those nearest and dearest, but in this trying interval of waiting can we not have sufficient faith in the ultimate outcome to be a little more patient, a little more loving?
Perhaps, however, the argument comes, “It is my very love which makes me impatient. If I did not love so much I should not care.” But is it really love, O troubled heart? Let us be sure on this point, for no sentiment is so likely to be misconstrued. If we probe the heart deeply enough, that which we fondly believe to be love for the tree sometimes turns out to be only love for ourselves,—a desire that the tree shall grow green because it will make our yard prettier, and in consequence we shall be happier. Before we begin to pity ourselves too industriously, and sadly maintain that we have done “everything we can,” suppose we ask ourselves if we have done the one thing which is the hardest to do of all—so hard, in fact, that some of us never even attempt it—and that is, to let go of our own sense of personal responsibility in the matter.
Suppose we try a little harder to remember that it is not “our” tree at all, but God’s. Suppose we try to make its stubbornness, its ugliness, its perversity, less of a reality, and to remember instead that the real tree and the real man are perfect ideas in Mind, and that, as such, God is ever conscious of them. Suppose we try to remember that God’s work is already done; that the hickory tree, to Him, is already as beautiful as the weeping willow, because He can see that which is still hidden from our dull eyes—the perfect, finished spiritual creation; and that in His way (not ours) and in His time (not ours) this eternal fact will be made manifest to human consciousness.
Meanwhile do we honestly desire to see it work out its problem? Then suppose we step aside and give it a chance. It is possible that the one thing it needs is just to be let alone, and it is more than probable that this is the one thing which we have never done, for mortal mind is never more agreeably employed than when attempting to manage other people’s affairs. Suppose we stand aside just for awhile. Self-righteousness may have been casting a darker, colder shadow upon it than we have ever realized. Self-love too, which Mrs. Eddy tells us is “more opaque than a solid body” (Science and Health, p. 242), has sometimes kept the light from reaching things far more precious than hickory trees. The human mind has also a strange trait called self-justification; but, if we pray earnestly enough, we can free ourselves even from this. Do not let us crowd the slowly unfolding idea, for overanxiety has a smothering effect at times. Let us get ourselves far enough in the background to allow the free winds of heaven to blow and the warm sunshine to do its work. It was God’s tree before it was ours. Can we not trust Him to take care of it?
Take courage, wistful gardener! Have weeks and months gone by, and still your tree stands without response? It may be that tomorrow’s dawn will see the first faint bud appear; and in the mean time there is yet one thing which we can do, one final test so crucial that only those who have borne it can understand what it involves. Do we really love? Have we really the best interests of the loved one at heart? Then prove it. That which is truly love, and not its counterfeit, can not only
Speak the word that’s needed, yet
Can hold its peace as well: nor doth forget
When things seem wrong, love shows itself most great
By sometimes being willing just to wait.