The Widest Community I Can Address
This morning I trimmed my heavily-laden apple tree and contemplated how much better a gardener God is than I. Four months too late, I was removing branches that would not bear fruit so that the tree could focus on the fruit it had, but any arborist worth her salt knows you don’t mess with fruiting apples. It’s like poking pregnant women: it’s not only not nice, it usually backfires.
So I spoke soothingly to the tree while I made clean cuts. “I know this seems like poor management, but it’s the best I can do to help you with the fruit. Hold onto them. Focus on them. Grow fruit, not leaves.” I hoped she understood.
I was also convicted of hidden motives. I keep getting smacked by low-hanging branches when I mow. I didn’t want her to know this drove my loppers. I thought how God does not wait until we’re mid-way through our fruiting season to trim us back, and he doesn’t do so for his own convenience. We are the focus of his gardening and our fruit, not our appearance, informs his care of us.
Far before we flower, he trims, knowing that apple trees don’t need to be big or have a huge canopy. In fact, when well-trimmed they are not visually appealing trees. Apple trees make the best apples when kept small with a very conscious structure like upward-facing fingers on an upturned hand. While it is still winter, he cuts us back, taking care to maintain that open structure that will invite sun and air into the tree to ripen the eventual fruit. Reviewing each shoot of new growth, he determines if it will rub against another branch in the wind, creating a wound that will endanger the tree, and he removes those.
He knows we want to grow, and with the promise of water and sun we sprout in every direction spindly branches that grow many feet per year and are covered with rich leaves. He cuts those back every year, because they’re too thin to hold the fruit that will spontaneously grow, and apple trees are meant to grow apples, not leaves.
Apples. Not leaves.
Beside my computer is a handwritten quote from Elder Jeffery Holland.
Serve in the widest community you can address.
I have pondered that guidance, and it has often stretched me to reach farther and do more. That’s a good thing. Apple trees want to grow.
Last Sunday at our Stake Conference, a dear friend spoke of a woman in our ward who serves everyone. There is hardly anyone who has not been touched by her thoughtful, loving service. Even outside our ward in the Stake, many would recognize the print of her hand on their lives. She spoke of this woman anonymously, but being human, my mind wandered to different people she could be describing. I could think of three or four and I thought about those women, women who have truly touched people and whom I love dearly.
And then I realized that they all shared many traits in common. They reached people one-on-one. They could always be counted on to bring in a meal (often they were taking in meals before anyone told them about a need). They had served in every calling they’d been given. They were the stalwarts.
They each also usually worked alone in their service. And they each were bone tired.
I honestly spent the rest of the meeting thinking about that. What is it about charity that makes us tired? Is it the seeing every need and knowing just how much good needs to be done? Is it the heaviness of bearing other people’s burdens? Is it the scope of work and the realization of our own insufficiency, coupled somehow with a dogged determination to do it all anyway?
I would never be confused with one of those stalwarts. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that as I sat pondering, to be quite honest. I serve when asked and where I see needs, but I have been trimmed back a lot of times and I’m keenly aware of my insufficiency on almost every front. I have learned to ask for help for myself and to help others, and I have no illusions that I am terribly helpful to that many people. I’m not a spiritual superhero. I am a small tree with a wizened trunk and a modest canopy.
And I think that’s why Elder Holland’s quote has remained on my desk. I’m still trying to figure out how to serve in the widest community I can address.
Today I stood under my apple tree and I finally understood it, seventeen months after I first heard it.
- The widest community I can address is the limit of the fruit I can fully ripen.
- I am not the best guide to determine where that limit is with all my wildly enthusiastic off-shooting in every direction.
- I should be asking God.
I should be asking for the trimming from the God who sees where I’m growing, knows how to remove crossing branches, remembers my pattern of fruiting, and understands how long to leave my branches so that I can bear the weight of that fruit. He knows what the widest community I can address is.
And I can be comfortable with the fact that I’m not an ornamental tree. I’m a fruit tree. I make apples. I’m not impressive-looking. Impressive-looking apple trees make lots of fruit and then hang, tired and limp with more than they can ripen, breaking in the wind and dropping green apples guiltily.
Perhaps those superheroes my dear friend could have been describing are apricots or plums and their canopy can sustain that pleasing shape while still bearing fruit. Perhaps I am misreading their tiredness. For me, however, the guideline is clear.
God is the arborist. And I am a small apple tree laden with a manageable crop of fruit. I’m probably standing in a long line of other small apple trees laden with their manageable crops of fruit. The gardener knows what he’s doing and has plans to harvest a bumper crop of apples from trees that aren’t too worn-out or wind-broken to produce a bumper crop of apples next year, and the next year, and the next.
Suddenly I am enough to serve in the widest community I can address. The gardener will know.