In the tiny front yard of our little inner-city plot in Minneapolis live two crabapple trees. My wife and I bought them from the same nursery and planted them on the same day fourteen years ago. But if you were enjoying a late summer stroll down our street today and noticed them, you would wonder why these two trees look so different.
The tree just off the north corner of the house is the picture of a fine-looking young crab. It stands about fifteen feet high with branches spreading in pleasing proportion in all directions. It is just beginning to develop the familiar gnarled beauty of a mature crab tree. As summer gives way to autumn, almost every branch is hanging heavy with its beautiful, deep red fruit — so much fruit, in fact, that most of its leaves have dropped just to make room.
But the tree just off the south corner is much different. At first you might not think it a crab tree at all. It is nearly thirty feet tall and oddly slender. Its branches are full of leaves, and though it’s producing fruit in similar quantity to its north-side sister, the berries are growing almost entirely in the top third of the tree.
So why are these two crab trees so different?
The Altering Influence of Struggle
Actually, for their first seven years of life they weren’t much different at all. Both trees grew at similar rates and proportions. Then something happened that changed the life of the south-side crab. A mulberry tree began to grow in the hedge just a few feet away.
Our neighbors to the south had always carefully maintained the hedge. Then they moved, leaving me with hedge-trimming duty — and a problem. An embankment put the front end of the hedge out of my reach, even with my ladder. As I put off buying another ladder, the hedge front grew and in it the unforeseen mulberry.
This mulberry tree grew with amazing speed. But it began to look nice, drew lots of birds, and people even made mulberry jam from it. So I let it be. But the larger the mulberry became, the more it blocked sunlight from the young south-side crab tree. This forced the crab to struggle for nourishing sunrays. For years the mulberry adversity pushed the crab to grow oddly tall while its north-side sister grew “normally,” basking in unimpeded sun.
The Lord of the Mulberries
Perhaps you’ve had a mulberry in your past. It may be gone now, but its effects linger. And it has shaped you in ways you wouldn’t have chosen. You feel different, abnormal.
Or perhaps right now you’re living in the shadow of a mulberry, struggling for light. Jesus invites you to ask what you wish (John 15:7). He will give you what you ask in faith, for he is the Great Remover of mulberries (Luke 17:6), though do not be surprised if it feels like he’s taking too long.
But whether your mulberry is removed or you’re waiting for its removal, the Lord of the Mulberries is your gardener. Unlike me, he knows where the mulberries grow. He foresaw your mulberry, and therefore your unique growth is not an accident.
Your dimensions as a tree in the garden of God may look different from other trees, perhaps conspicuously so. But there are purposes in your dimensions (Romans 8:28). They will have unforeseen benefits, and you will still bear fruit as you trust your gardener (John 15:1, 5). You also will have a unique ability to comfort those who are struggling against their mulberries (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
Remember the Mulberries and Be Patient
Those who pass our yard and observe the south-side crab tree may wonder why it is the way it is. So it is with us. Others who observe us, but don’t know our history of struggle, may misunderstand why we are the way we are.
Perhaps they have not dealt with a mulberry. Or more likely, their mulberry experience was different. They may not understand how our mulberry’s shadow affected our growth and so misunderstand our different dimensions. They might judge with wrong judgments and reach erroneous conclusions. We might do the same to them.
Past mulberries can result in painful present misinterpretations, so be careful. Remember the mulberry and the crab tree, and let love be patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). And rather than see each other’s atypical dimensions as defects, look for the gardener’s grace in them. Likely they have benefits we haven’t yet seen.
In the care of the Lord Gardener, all our mulberry struggles change us for good.