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The Forest's Lesson

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging."

(Matthew 7:1-2 MSG)

Why is it that we enjoy pointing out flaws? Not only in each other but in ourselves, possibly in equal parts. Like a broken appendage of the human spirit, this sad habit harshly pokes at those things we deem strange, unappealing, or unworthy. From our own age spots and frown lines and extra pounds, to others' hairstyles, dance moves and personal traits we have decided are just a bit too weird, we bring out the cracked magnifying glass of merit and determine their value according to our personal opinions of them. I do this all of the time with my own appearance, and more frequently each passing year, as the tautness of my youth slips away and bodily slack pursues each of my features at a relentless clip.

I cannot believe I am admitting this, but this blog is about doing better and to do that we sometimes must lift up the mossy rock of our lives to reveal what lies underneath, where the worms wiggle and show our muddy side: When I was in the fourth grade, (about 200 years ago now), I remember there was another girl that my best friend and I hung out with that we had suddenly deemed annoying.

Looking back now, I have no idea why, but we just decided one day she was too weird to hang out with us. We had suddenly deemed us "right" and her "wrong" and not worthy of our friendship. It was the three of us for the longest time and then, snip! She was cut off and out. We began to avoid and ignore her...just horrible. It was like we were starring in our small town production of "Mean Girls". And, unfortunately, we were excellent at playing the part.

We almost got away with our nastiness towards her until my Dad found a top 10 list of why we hated her one day hanging on my bedroom wall. He had this way of taking me down with a single disappointed look, and as I look back at my behavior then, I wince and abhor that I acted that way towards someone totally undeserving, all she wanted was to be our friend.

Well, life has a way of showing us just how our actions make others feel. We always, always get payback for the way we treat others. It may not happen right away, but eventually we get our due and must swallow the bitter pill we once doled out others.

I too have been on the receiving end of others' opinions of me that were unwarranted or appreciated, I must say. I have been on the receiving end of people's quick and brashly decided judgements of who I am; labeled not worthy of an invitation to their party. Sticks and stones hurt, words hurt, and labels hurt too.

Truthfully, most of us do not know what someone else has gone or is going through and know very little about their story. We are all just people with breakable hearts trying to walk life's often bumpy road, and can all use a bit more grace and way less gravel. We can all use less mean in the world, right? Much less bark and bite.

Speaking of bark, I absolutely love walking in the forest. There is just something sacred that happens when surrounded overhead with creation's towering canopy atop time-ringed trunks and the special sounds found there that settle the soul. This poem about trees that I read once has always hummed low in my consciousness and it is one we should all ponder as we meet others:

“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying, “You are too this, or I’m too this.” That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees, which means appreciating them just the way they are.” - Ram Dass

Isn't that just something? Can we just be who God created us to be and appreciate all of the different leaf colors and patterns, trunk leanings, root tangles, and all the rest? In each other and in ourselves? What a released way to live! It is like replacing our broken, dirtied lenses with those of God's perfect vision, clearly seeing us and hear how He says, "Yep, that's my kiddo, aren't they just wonderful? I sure think so."

The world would turn a bit easier if we can each begin "turning people into trees" like the author of that poem does and loving each one as we were created to be. When we see something a bit unique, let's journey deeper into the woods, lean in and get a better look and appreciate it, not turn away or slap an unflattering label on it. This is a form of grace lived out. And, most importantly, we show God's love each time we do this:

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God." - 1 John 4:7

Now, go and be your own beautiful stand-tall, tree self. The forest is less interesting and less awesome when you are not. And, thank your Creator for making you and others just the way we are.

Question: Do you point out flaws too much? Not only in others but yourself? Can you turn the critical spirit into one of appreciation? Pray for God's help in this. It is a good ask.

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