Life is short and life is long: grass and olive trees

July 27, 2010 — Leave a comment

These past months, [I can no longer say “a few months” since we’re now going on month five], we have been living through an interesting period where life can change in an instant. Good friends we’ve known for years have had to leave with only a few days notice. Others have been given a few weeks to go, never to return. It’s unsettling to say the least, like being surrounded by small individualized earthquakes. And we can’t help but think if there will come a time when our life here will be shaken too. There have been days when I’ve wondered ‘will this be the day when our life will change forever?’

This experience has made me realize all over again how easy it is to take life for granted. We think we are masters of our universe, able to call the shots and decide where we will live and what we will do. But disaster or upheaval can come without any warning: losing a job, discovering a betrayal, getting a terminal diagnosis, having a fatal accident.

In the midst of this, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Psalms [which often seem written for exactly the situation]. And I’ve been struck by two contrasting images used to describe who we are: grass and olive trees.

You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning–
though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.

Psalm 90:5-6

I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust God’s unfailing love. [Psalm 53:8]

I grew up with plenty of grass, in a neighborhood of rich watered lawns of soft fescue and ryegrass. Living here, I’ve come to appreciate grass even more.

After you’ve walked past block after block of concrete [if you’re in the city] or dry ground [if you’re in the countryside], to come on a little patch of grass is a refreshing sight.

There’s also ‘real’ grass here as well, the kind that springs up [in the spring, of course] from the rains, and then is gone by summer. Without water, it can’t survive more than a week or two. Even if it is constantly watered, it dies after a while and a new blade takes its place. People are like that too. Even the richest, most powerful people in the world can’t extend their lives. Eventually, we all pass away like the grass of the field.

These two pictures were taken a few months apart, a vivid reminder of how short the life of grass is.

As for olive trees, I didn’t know much about them before I came here and they aren’t part of my daily landscape either. But I see them when I go out to the countryside, almost always in a grove, planted close together for easy harvesting of the olives.

Olive trees aren’t particularly photogenic but they are reliable and green in every season [their leaves being not olive green, but a pale silvery green]. If an olive tree was an animal, it would be a donkey.They are stalwart, hardy. They bear up well in droughts. Even if they are cut down, new shoots will sprout from the stump because their roots go deep into the soil. They live a long, long time.*

That’s also the reality and the promise for people who are “planted in the house of the Lord…who flourish in the courts of our God….they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright, He is my Rock’…” [Psalm 92:12-15] They may be pruned [see John 15] but as they are rooted in Christ and grow in Him, they bear fruit and are strengthened by the hope that when their physical life on earth disappears, their spiritual bodies will live on with Him.

500 year-old olive tree

Grass and olive trees: reminders that life is short, on the edge of death; and that life is long, on the edge of eternal life.

I always need to keep those two facts in mind:
I am going to die. I am going to live.
I may stay here for a long time. I may leave tomorrow.
Either way, today counts.

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom…
Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Psalm 90:12,14

More on the amazing olive tree

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