Oaks of Righteousness
I can’t shake this image lately. This forest of skinny trees. I painted it in response to meditating on Isaiah 61:3.
In this passage, God is giving Isaiah a message of hope for a yet afflicted people. He’s calling them to hope in the restoration that WILL be, the joy that IS coming. Essentially, Isaiah is asking them to look at a group of saplings and imagine a mighty forest. To have faith in, work toward, and care for the life that is on its way.
I think I’m drawn to this idea because it’s the exact opposite of the life I live. I get impatient if I have to drive behind a mail truck that makes frequent stops. I rarely let the microwave finish counting down the seconds to zero before I stop it by just opening the door. And when something in my marriage needs tending to, I want to wash, rinse, no repeat. I’m 31, and since I got married at 21, I’ve desperately wanted us to be a forest. And this short verse stops me in my tracks and reminds me of a few things.
1) Growth takes time
I realize this is a basic concept, but in our era of fast-food, amazon prime, internet streaming life we don’t do slow. I’ve recently traded in my crock pot for an instant pot, because it’s faster. And when it comes to my marriage, I want to have one conversation to fix all the things. Let’s make a policy about A, B, & C so that, when it happens again, it doesn’t result in X, Y, & Z. I want to expect perfection from Paul, and from myself. I want to land in that picture perfect moment where we have arrived. But that’s not how God designed our lives to work. Our spirits mimic our physical bodies in so many ways, not the least of which is how development progresses slowly. It takes a baby nine months to form fully enough to breathe air. Then another 9-14 months to begin independent walking. Healing following forgiveness, learning new habits and implementing new strategies takes roughly as long.
On our wedding day we are planted as saplings, and hopefully over time we grow and mature into trees - that can be seen from a distance. That help mark the way for others. That tell the story of the days they’ve weathered the elements and pushed down roots, and shaded the grass, and bloomed beautifully. And when I let go of my timeline, and let the growth take place as it does, I’m actually freed up to engage in that growth process more fully.
2) Planting takes intentionality
Cultivated forests don’t just happen. Someone plants them. Tends them. Restores them after droughts and lightening storms and fires. And likewise, we tell couples so often that you don’t grow by mistake. You choose to invest in your relationship and the emotional, spiritual, and relational well-being of your spouse. Hopefully, you begin your engagement with an eye to this process, but wherever you find yourself in your marriage journey, you can choose to begin investing intentionally in it.
This has a unique connotation to me in terms of growing a family. It’s so easy to fall into relationship patterns with your spouse that might not be ideal, but are workable… until children enter the scene. I never thought so much about what our legacy might be, what sort of communication, conflict resolution, and forgiveness partnerships we were going to model for the next generation until our babies were born. I want my girls to not only speak up for themselves kindly, forgive quickly, and strive to resolve conflict thoroughly; I want them to look for those skills in close friends and Lord willing, a future spouse. They have to see that in their daddy and me if they are to utilize those skills well later on. I want our forest of communication to be thick, and bright, and luscious, sheltering people who need it, and providing a comfortable place for future generations to grow and learn.
3) The Lord grows what brings Him glory
This verse reminds us that these trees are planted BY the Lord FOR His glory. And without delving into too much theological muddy water, I think we can surmise that the Lord plants, tends to, and cultivates that which pleases Him. We need not strive for perfection on our own. It isn’t our job to grow ourselves from twigs into trunks. But when we earnestly seek Him, and we bare our souls to His pruning and watering, when we pursue marriage in a way that honors Christ, we know that He will see it through. He will finish the good work He set out to do, working all things together for the good of those that love Him, so that we can walk in the good works He set out for us to do, before the foundations of the world. (Start in Galatians 1 and read through Colossians 4… it’s all about bringing glory to Jesus as He sanctifies His own.) What He plants, He grows, for His glory.
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