There once stood, in Kentucky, an old magnificent tree. The tree was beautiful and lush, the pride of its owner. It stood tall in front of her house, a welcoming piece of nature, a beautiful finishing touch to her homestead.
Much to the woman’s dismay, the strong tree was destroyed in Union artillery fire. After the war it still stood upright, but it’s limbs were bare, dark and twisted. It’s charred trunk was only a painful and sad reminder of the past. The woman who owned the place, would stare at the tree and weep for the injustice of all that had happened. When General Robert E. Lee visited the woman, she pointed out the tree to him, expecting sympathy and at the very least for him to condemn those responsible for what had happened. The wise general took one look at the tree and softly said, “Cut it down, dear madam and forget it.”
Lee knew something that few people come to grasp in life: The tree that once stood there would never be the same again and all the tears and bitterness in the world would not change that fact.
All the tree now held was a constant reminder of the injustice the woman had felt and until she would let it go, she would forever feel victimized.
This story, originally told in Charles Bracelen Flood’s book, “Lee: The Last Years”, gives me much to ponder today. For it is a true story, and a wise decision. And it has been proven very true in my own life. My own “trees” sometimes look quite different, maybe it’s a broken treasure, reminding me of the person who shattered it. Maybe it’s a hurtful email held onto for the very same reason as the woman held on to the tree: to point out the wrong that was done. Those texts held onto, serving as a reminder of what happened, as a means of pointing out the injustice. And ridding ourselves of these tokens of injustice that prove our unfair case is painful because it makes a bold statement: I’m not fighting anymore. But oh, the peace that statement brings!
Although the situation feels quite different when the reminders of the pain are not things, but people, doesn’t it? And exactly how does one move ahead when people can’t just be thrown away? It’s one thing to walk out of prison doors and never see your tormentors again, but it’s quite another to live among them. Is it right to flee when they enter the room? Is it good to ignore their presence, as if they don’t exist? Is it helpful to try to force their hand in making things right?
In reality, “Cutting down the tree” when pertaining to close relationships sometimes feels like a physical cutting off, but what it really is, is a recognition that all my human efforts have failed. And rather than continuing on a dangerous path of tearing each other down, there comes a resolve to live moving forward, instead of trying to regain something from the past.
This is the struggle I have been going through, learning to let those you love make painful and heart wrenching decisions and learning to not fight those decisions. Giving space out of safety and respect. Giving a gentle smile out of love. An encouraging word when appropriate. And always praying and staying soft.
Above all, learning that our hope is in God alone. Our hope is NOT in the actions or responses of others. He alone brings healing where it seems impossible. He alone can make the wrong things right. And in His timing all will be restored.
That burnt, ruined tree, will never be the same. It’s true! However I’ve discovered, that when a dead tree is cut down, often a new shoot springs out of that dead stump. Yes, it takes time to grow and no, it doesn’t look the same as the tree that was lost. But it’s ALIVE, it’s fresh, and it’s healing.