There is a live oak tree in our rocky yard which we have named Charlie Brown. It is a funny tree that has not chosen the same path as our other live oaks. From the beginning of when we planted it, this tree has survived a slower start with more unusual shapes than others. A major freeze set it back but it seems to have a will to live, change, morph and survive. Currently, it seems to be attempting to shed some of its bark. I didn't know if I should be concerned about that or not. After a little research, I now understand bark shedding is a natural and necessary part of growing for a tree. Trees grow up through their branches and down into the earth with their roots. The tree trunks also grow wider with each passing season and as they do, they shed the bark that served to protect them but is now no longer big enough to contain them. When the old bark falls away, the new bark is ready, healthy and able to enhance new growth.
Similar to a tree, our growth sometimes depends upon our ability to loosen and shed defenses we may no longer need. Like bark, we sometimes create barriers or boundaries which can serve as a defense or protection. Those boundaries may be vital and necessary at strategic times in our lives. But there may be times when we outgrow those boundaries. We change. Others change. Life happens. An openness to creative and new possibilities can emerge and give new life and exponential growth. Perhaps the occasional seasonal shedding of our protective layers can allow us to expand to our full potential in helpful ways. Trees need their protective bark to enable the delicate process of growth and renewal to unfold without threat. Likewise, we sometimes need some protection so that the more vulnerable parts of ourselves can safely heal and unfold. But our growth can also depend on our ability shed boundaries and defenses that no longer serve us in positive ways. What if our personal bark becomes too constricting? At such times, it may be a good idea to choose to shed some of our bark and expand our boundaries so we can move into the next ring of growth.
Some spiritual advisors say that our egos don't need to disappear. Instead, they can become large enough to hold more than just our small sense of self. In other words, the boundary of self widens to contain people and situations other than just "me". Each time we shed a layer of defensiveness or lessen a barrier, we can become bigger people in a sense. From time to time it is important to my growth that I question what defenses are too hardened and unyielding. Some protections and boundaries are necessary to protect my heart but it is equally important to take an honest look at myself. What can I soften and release in timely ways to make space for grace, forgiveness, healing and learning? What risks can I take? What new growth is calling out my name and hoping for birth inside my very soul? If I shed my bark like a tree then it will be for my greater good, expanding my growth with care and strength. A tree only sheds its bark when it is ready and healthy for its growth. We are created for relationships with each other, with God, and with all of creation. There is an interconnectedness that when understood and embraced is enlivening and growth producing. Relationships of all kinds are some of our greatest teachers.
Life is full of challenges and beauty. It is important to ask myself about the ways I might be constricting my growth. What do I need to learn next? What is that certain difficult situation or relationship trying to teach me? How and when should I shed my protective bark to allow new rings of wisdom to form?
Prayer: Lord of my rings, help me to grow in ways that are wise and healthy. Grant me the understanding I need to know when to let go and when to hold on. And, help me in my vulnerable moments to trust that you are doing a good and loving work in me. Amen.