In autumn, the cottonwood trees in my neck of the woods drop their leaves. They aren’t especially pretty leaves in the fall, but they do have a pleasant fragrance: it is a faint smell like blackberries. Cottonwood trees grow fast, especially when they have access to an abundant source of water, such as my lawn’s sprinkler system. In the wild, they usually flourish along creeks and rivers. A few years back, I noticed that a cottonwood sapling had spring up in the corner of our front yard. I knew I should cut it down, but I liked the appearance of cottonwood trees and so I let it grow. Each passing year I looked at the tree and said to myself, I should cut that tree down before it becomes a problem. But procrastination always reared its ugly head.
Years later, I would get annoyed at the cottonwood tree for dispensing leaves and twigs on my front lawn. I already had enough ornamental trees shedding leaves on my lawn (not to mention the mysterious dog that periodically deposited a mountain, transforming my yard into a compost pile). But then spring and summer would roll around and I would find myself allured by the bright greenery and shade of the cottonwood tree.
Eventually I noticed the roots of the cottonwood tree were pushing through the surface of my lawn and seemed to be working their way towards the front steps and foundation of our house. The cottonwood tree was now over twenty inches wide at the base and many feet higher than the crown of our roof. It was time for the tree to come down. I could no longer favor the beauty of the tree over the threat it imposed on our dwelling. I cut it down last Saturday. What a mess! It took Cindy and me all day to get it down and reduced to manageable pieces.
Is there a spiritual lesson here about allowing unhealthy relationships, sins, or addictions into our lives? Sure! But what jumped out at me about the cottonwood tree was the response of a neighbor. As Cindy and I finished cutting up the tree, one of our neighbors approached and said, “Thank you for cutting down that tree. Each summer that tree shed thousands of those cotton-like seed puffs. That stuff would get all over the interior of my convertible.”
Wow! I had suspected some of my neighbors might not be thrilled with the tree, but I didn’t realize it was causing real headaches and extra work for other people. In other words, the tree was more than an eyesore. I think this is the lesson of the cottonwood tree: We often let unhealthy things enter our lives without realizing how those things affect other people, or we know but ignore it. I knew when I first spotted that cottonwood sapling that it would likely become a problem. But I was willing to endure the problem because I thought it would mostly affect me. I’m glad the threat of the cottonwood tree has been eliminated, but it is probably more important to God that I endeavor to be on good terms with my neighbors.
Did you know that crows often bicker like married couples? (I admit my propensity to spend too much time observing the antics of crows is rather odd, but we all have hobbies.) Yep, just drop a half-eaten bag of French fries in a vacant city parking lot and watch the fun begin. One crow will swoop down and go to town on the fries. Soon another crow will appear, then another, then another. Before the French fries appeared, the crows were all buddies hanging out in the trees. But now they are bitter rivals. They flap their open wings at each other while lunging in and out to grab French fries. And their language is obscene. Still, I suspect that if there were no crows we’d be up to our necks in discarded French fries and other fast-food refuse. Makes you appreciate these black-feathered janitors of the skies, don’t it?
I sometimes wonder if crows mate for life (or if they are promiscuous). And where do crows raise their young? You see thousands of adult crows in my part of the country, but you rarely see where they nest. Given the ill-tempered nature of crows, I am certain married crows argue a lot.
Humans are a bit like crows. For instance, I saw an article recently that listed the most common things that rankled married couples. Here is a sample:
He leaves the toilet seat up.
He won’t look for food in the back of the refrigerator.
He puts dirty dishes in the sink instead of in the dishwasher.
After showering, he leaves the damp towel on the floor or on the bed.
He leaves dirty clothes next to the laundry hamper instead of putting them in the hamper.
He puts the garbage on the kitchen counter right next to the garbage can.
She leaves kitchen drawers open.
It takes her weeks to unpack from a business trip.
She doesn’t hang the towel back where it belongs after showering. (Perhaps that is why he leaves his damp towel on the bed.)
She takes too long in the shower.
She worries too much.
She has poor communication skills.
She constantly loses her car keys. (My personal favorite.)
Many years ago, an older pastor looked me in the eye and said he never argued with his wife. (And here I thought lying was frowned on in the pastorate.) Even if a tiny fraction of married folks don’t bicker, I wonder if something is amiss in those bickerless relationships. The Bible says that a man and woman who marry will become one flesh. That process of becoming one flesh can be uncomfortable. A man I recently met said he occasionally argued with his wife over trivial stuff because it somehow helped him feel like HE was still there. In other words, husbands and wives can, at times, feel like they are losing their individual self within marriage. But committed couples learn to compromise and adjust. And a funny, almost counterintuitive, thing happens as the years pass: we become one flesh with each other while at the same time our individual self matures. That’s cool! And maybe it’s akin to what Jesus meant when he said if we lose our life for his sake we will find our life.
Crows can bicker all day over French fries and it won’t help them become better crows. Human couples can bicker and become better people or bitter people. It’s a choice.