Contributor – David W. Carroll – Lead Consultant with Ministry Architects, one of the country’s leading ministry consulting firms. He retired in June after 34 years of pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church.
By stroke of good fortune, and I’m sure the grace of God, I was afforded the opportunity of a November beach trip. Mind you, it was a working trip – not just the “fun’n’sun” type trip that we typically dream of, but it WAS a beach trip nonetheless.
We stayed in a beautiful house about a block and a half off the beach but with easy walking access to gorgeous white sand and salty ocean breezes. While we spent most of our time working through business processes and making improvements, honing our craft, and increasing our skills, there was yet some time for beach volleyball and for those renewing walks by the ocean’s edge.
For those times when we couldn’t quite get down to the beach, like during those ten minute breaks designed for snacks and bathrooms, there was one of those cool little towers on top, advantageously placed to give a peak at a beautiful ocean view or perhaps a sunrise or sunset … or so I thought.
As I first made my way up to the tower, never having been in such a one before, I could hardly wait to see the panoramic view. I topped the winding stairway, emerged from the access door, looked toward the ocean, and saw … (wait for it) … TREES!
Now I don’t know when that gorgeous beach house was built, and I don’t know when or by whom those trees were planted, but the ocean vista that I had anticipated was nowhere to be seen, cruelly obscured by Floridian flora.
Any rabid beach lover (and there are those such people) would probably just pull out the chainsaw and hack away at those trees, roaring much like the Queen of Hearts, “Off with their heads!” in order to reveal the hidden secrets of oceanic beauty.
But I fully confess that I’m a true tree lover at heart. It pains me when any tree is brought down, or as the more callous might say, “harvested.” Okay. Full disclosure. When my family built its new house last year on a wooded lot, we relocated the house footprint twice in order to accommodate old-growth trees that were acorns during the Spanish-American War. Okay. Fullest disclosure. I’ve even named some of my favorite trees – like Woodrow, the huge white oak which serves as the anchor end of several of our woodpiles (which is of course a row of wood = “Woodrow”). But before this gets too weird, I just wanted the reader to get a picture of how painful tree destruction can be for me. I simply love trees for all the right reasons, at least in my own mind. To me, trees are one of God’s greatest things.
But so is the ocean … and its panoramic vistas … currently obscured by an unintended barrier of trees.
I wonder if there are times in our lives when one of the great things that we love can prevent us from getting to an even greater thing. It may even be that one of those great things that we love hinders us in a way that we don’t even know. In youth ministry it can be that traditional trip that “we’ve always done” that is keeping us from trying a much more needed, much more important or meaningful event that would move the needle in the right direction. It might be that building policy that “protects” certain portions of our church building from those “unruly young people.” It might be that “debt-free” policy that bottlenecks important attempts at facility growth.
Sometimes the great things can even become sacred cows, which we may need to sacrifice in order to reach something better. Or as Bill Easum wrote, “Sacred cows make gourmet burgers.”
You know, as I stood there wishing for that incredible ocean view, I remembered that my family left town for a week while the bulldozers came to knock down the necessary trees so that we could build our new home. I asked the crew to pile the logs that came from those trees, that were acorns in the 1890s, so that I could with great respect saw and split them by hand to fuel the family fireplaces.
We were able to let those trees go – those great things – in order to find the greater thing God had in mind – in our case a cozy home with a close-knit family gathered around the glow and warmth of an evening fire.