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Patchy progress

Patchy progress

I'm learning from the sycamores.

On my walk along a somewhat hidden path only a few blocks from my house, I discover a disintegrating trail sign pointing my attention to two of these charming trees. I stop to enjoy them. And the years peel away.

We had a majestic sycamore just behind my childhood home. Its horizontal limbs were so long and thick, they extended over rows of hedges. We tied a tire swing to one such branch.  The tree towered over our property, dropping patches of bark and bumpy spherical seeds all over the ground underneath.

Despite my history with them, I don’t know much about sycamores. A quick web search provides some fascinating trivia. For instance, they can gain the widest girth of any North American tree – the largest one on record had a diameter of 15 feet!

But it’s the shedding bark that makes it such a visual delight.

Why does it slough off its skin? Theories abound. My favorite is that by throwing off its outer layer, the trunk becomes able to photosynthesize even when it’s leafless. Imagine the benefit of winter feeding for a tree!

These shedding sycamores remind me of spiritual growth. We are called to “put off” our old selves and “put on” the new.  (Eph. 4:22-24) But the process of sanctification is a life-long one. As we grow, our “putting off” could be pretty patchy. I wish, when I was redeemed as a teen, that my practical obedience had been as instantly transformed as my spiritual standing – but there is this pesky body, with its tendencies and weaknesses.

Sometimes it feels like change is like a slow and erratic peeling.

At one point in his life, Paul prayed to have a “thorn in the flesh” removed:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  (2 Cor. 12:9)

It’s unclear if that thorn was spiritual or physical. Either way, Paul rejoices in his weakness. He doesn’t crow about all the things God has done through him – and there were many. He boasts about the parts that are still a challenge, where he finds himself in need of God’s help.

Because that is where God’s grace shines.

These variegated trunks are beautiful. But then, I delight in shapes and contrast. I find these so much more visually interesting than fully-covered trees

In the same way, there’s a kind of beauty to the unique way each of us grows to become more like Christ.  Now that I’m pondering this, I’m not sure I want that instant transformation I spoke of earlier. I’m glad that spiritual growth in this life is a process. Even a patchy one.

Because, as frustrating as my weaknesses and natural inclinations are, each one is a place to meet Jesus. And be amazed at his power and grace.

Jesus, help us to appreciate – and even see the beauty in – each believer’s patchy process of becoming more like you.

Reader: here’s a very specific, observational question. What’s your favorite tree bark?  And why?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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