Wooded Lands, Wooded Hearts
“You enlarged my path under me [because You gathered sticks in the woods] and my feet did not slip.” Psalm 18:36
I just came from the woods. That can only mean one of two things…I went there to relax or I went there to reclaim. Today, it was a mission of reclaiming that which I’ve claimed over and over again. Ah, but the trees are relentless in their desire to rid themselves of unwanted kindling. They seem completely at ease with dropping branches, both large and small, pretty much every time the wind blows. And, since the wind recently put forth a great huff and a great puff, the trees acted accordingly and let go of a great bounty of branches!
So, today I gathered and piled and hauled stacks of sticks from across the woods. Whenever I do this, my mind does some time traveling. First, I go back to my childhood when my siblings and I helped our Mom pick up sticks in the woods next to our house. I remember wondering why we were picking up sticks…in the woods. Isn’t that where sticks are supposed to be? Then, my mind wanders from my own childhood to my boys’ childhood where we’re together in the woods ….picking up sticks. And, not unlike their mother of yore, they ask the reverberating and recycled question, “Why are we picking up sticks…in the woods?” And, finally, my mind travels outside of time to a figurative woods where, you guessed it, I’m picking up figurative sticks. For me, this metaphorical woods is the human heart and the symbolical sticks are the sins that have fallen to litter its floor. And I wonder, “Why are there so many sticks to gather?” (If anyone knows someone who’s part therapist and part botanist, send them my way. The doc could pull up a stump and I’d recline on a log and we’d stay there until something splintered!)
With all these logged hours of stick collecting (get it…logged hours…how could I resist?), you’d think I’d know better than to try to clean up nature. After all, its very name is the antithesis of cleanliness. Things that are in their natural state are not organized or orderly but, well, not unlike one’s house before the phone call that announces company is coming! Pre-phone call, natural state; post-phone call, unnatural, but company-approved, state. So why the urge to clean up nature? Why, indeed, would one pick up sticks…in the woods?
For me, there’s one reason and it holds true for both the literal and the figurative woods. And here it is: so that one may enjoy its beauty. How true! How often have I played in, walked through, and sat in the woods, completely enjoying its beauty because of its cleared state? When sticks are left uncollected, they impede one’s passage and decrease one’s range throughout the woods. But once cleared of fallen nature, the beauty of erect nature can be a salve to our human nature. I don’t know this to be true, but I think the woods Robert Frost stopped by on a snowy evening was one whose fallen branches were regularly collected. After all, it led him to write a poem about its beauty! And just as a cleared woods brings delight, enjoyment, and ease of movement, so too does a cleared heart. When sins have been gathered by the Master’s hand, then the beauty of the landscape is more easily seen, appreciated and traversed.
Because wooded lands and wooded hearts are both prone to nature’s laws, they are both in need of continual stick collecting. Just as my boys and I, when in our youth, asked the importance of picking up sticks…in the woods, how thankful we are that God, in His longsuffering, continues to pick up sins…in our hearts. After all, nature is messy and in constant need of frequent clean-ups, which makes me wonder if God’s words, when He visits my heart, are the same as my words when I visit the woods, “Didn’t I just clean this area up? How has it become so cluttered so quickly? ”
Why do I pick up sticks in the woods? Because that’s where trees live and trees are full of sticks. Why does God pick up sins in our hearts? Because that’s where we live and we are full of sin. But through His design in wooded lands and in wooded hearts, God sends the winds that shake the trees and free them of their unneeded, and often unproductive, branches. Then, He gathers the sticks and clears the pathways so the beauty of the landscape may be enjoyed by all who enter in: cleared paths through shaded woods; cleaned hearts for His glorious good.
I took a walk within the woods,
Its beauty to behold.
I moved among its shaded paths,
Where sunlight dotted gold.
But though my eyes longed to look up,
And relish nature’s hue;
I had to aim my focus down,
In order to pass through.
For all around, where feet should go,
Sticks lay tossed and scattered,
What lay above I could not see,
Below was all that mattered.
How true it is, in woods and hearts,
That sticks must be collected;
For none can enjoy either’s shade,
Until they’ve been perfected.
In woods we simply pick up sticks,
To make a path that’s clear;
In hearts there’s naught that we can do,
But call the One who’s near.
Near enough to know our need,
Near enough to gather,
Each and every wayward stick,
Unblemished, He would rather.
For once we’ve given access to,
The One who gave us shade,
When on a cross our sins He took,
And all our sticks were laid.
Completely cleaned, our pathway cleared,
He moves about with ease;
Within the shade of our clean heart,
And warms us with His breeze.
So while we walk these wooded lands,
Let’s keep our pathways clear,
Let’s pick up sticks where’re they fall,
And keep our Gardener near.