In Kruger Park, not too far beyond the Vurhami Bridge, you’ll find an unusual tree on the left side of the road. In fact, there are two trees – forever entwined in what for me, is a perfect illustration of what stress does to you.
The one tree is tall and strong. Its bark carries many victory scars and ‘laughter lines’. Birds raise their voices in praise in the amphitheatre of its strong, leafy arms. At its base, strong roots testify to its deep thirst for life. This tree is a source of shade, shelter and life for other creatures and animals. This tree’s slow steadfast growth has resulted in a body that can stand firm in the storm. It looks calm and dependable.
The other tree is appropriately known as a Strangler Fig. Its trunk is scrawny and insipid by comparison. Twisted in tight, painful-looking spirals, it looks intent on strangling itself. The Strangler Fig is needy and cannot survive without its strong host tree to hold it up. It could never be called self-sustainable. It looks stressed and sickly.
There have been times in my life when I looked like both those trees. For a long season in my life, I allowed stress to consume me. It sapped my energy, crushed my spirit and made it hard for me to stand tall. In fact, it almost strangled the life out of me.
Now, by God’s grace, I look more like the first tree. I am strong and healthy. I bear the scars of my storms, but they are victory scars, because, with God’s help, I survived. My thirsty roots tap into the love of my Saviour and because of His strength, I can face the storms. My growth is slow but steady, and the tight knots that once crushed the life out of me are gone.
It occurred to me that those two trees grow in the same environment, with the same elements and nourishment. But with vastly different results. I doubt the Strangler Fig has a choice, but as human beings, we do. Often we don’t realise that the choice exists, and therein lies the danger. Stress is a killer. Ironically, it takes more energy and produces less life.
Fortunately, I realised that I had a choice before it was too late. My condition required drastic action, and I am not ashamed to admit that I think it saved my life. Can I handle stress now? No, I can’t. I have lost the physical capacity to manage stress efficiently – my stress manager is permanently burnt out.
Are you under pressure? Are you twisted in knots and spending your energy desperately trying to survive? Do you resemble the Strangler Fig? Take measures to stop it before it stops you. I believe we were created for so much more – for life, and life in abundance.
I am not oblivious to the fact that the first tree is growing strong and healthy, despite the presence of the Strangler Fig. I am encouraged by that. When we are grounded in life-giving foundations, we can withstand the storms because we are not reliant on our own power. I’m not saying there won’t be storms, droughts or strong winds, but I am saying that when stress isn’t crushing the very life out of us, we stand a better chance of survival. So which tree are you?