During the season of Advent we remember how the world waited for the coming of Jesus, and how his birth was the long awaited answer to that longing. Many of us are waiting on God in the present as well. Scripture is full of promises for us, to encourage, strengthen, and direct us during these times of waiting!
Shane Palkovitz’s Follow Up Article to The Teaching
Learning From Fire & Fungus
“I’m not living my dream!” a friend recently told me while on a night-time run.
“What is your dream?” I asked.
“Not this.” He said.
Good things take time. Sometimes, we don’t know what good things are coming our way or even what good things we want. What should we do while we are waiting? For our dreams or direction to take shape? Let us look to nature for some insight and encouragement.
The largest living organism in the world existed undercover for thousands of years. In the forest of Oregon there grows a Honey Fungus that is larger than 1500 football fields combined. This specific fungus was not discovered until 1998. Scientists thoroughly examined the mycelia (root-like structures of the mushroom world) to determine the organism’s age. Based on growth rate, the most conservative estimations peg the fungus to be over 2,000 years of age. While it was slowly growing beneath the earth’s surface for millennia, it was unseen, unrecognized and relentlessly pursuing its potential.
The Giant Redwood is the world’s tallest tree, reaching heights of over 300 feet. These magnificent trees sprout from pinecones that are merely one inch in length. These are not just any pinecones. They take up to two years to grow and mature. Once they are fully formed, the trees drop them to the forest floor, where they wait, dormant, for years upon years. The seeds will not be activated until they have been through a forest fire.
When fire ravages the understory of the forest, the cones open their scales and release the freshly activated seeds. This timing is not by chance; it is by perfect adaptesign (adaptation/design). When the forest has been wiped out by flames, the conditions are perfect for growing new plant life. The ashy deposits left by the fire are nutrient-rich, and the underbrush has been cleared out, leaving space for new life. The redwood seeds are released from the cones by the thousands at this pivotal time-window. What is a moment of pain for the forest becomes a new beginning, thanks to the preparation of the Redwoods.
In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus uses fruit-bearing plants as a metaphor for humans. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (7:20, NIV). Good fruits come from good vines, etc... Good things take time to grow—fruits do not magically appear (metaphorically or physically) without a tree, fungus, human, etc laying the groundwork, and trees don’t produce good fruit for years after they are planted. If you aren’t seeing the fruit you want in your life right now, check your roots. Maybe it’s a season where you are growing stronger, growing deeper, and storing up resources to produce something amazing later on.
The Honey Mushroom in Oregon only produces fruiting bodies under very specific conditions. Autumn rains within a certain temperature-window cause the established mycelial networks to produce fruiting bodies that enable the fungus to reproduce and contribute accessible nutrients to the forest food-web. The oldest and largest living thing on earth looks like noting more than a few scattered mushrooms on a few rainy days each fall.
The vast underground network of mycelia that produce these mushroom caps takes time to grow. Similarly, the Giant Redwoods take centuries to mature and wait for devastating forest fires to germinate their seeds. While they delay their fruits, they are working around the clock for thousands of years to be ready for those pivotal moments. If the mycelial networks of the Honey Mushroom were not in place, the fruiting caps could never exist. If the miniscule cones of the Giant Redwoods were not painstakingly produced and left laying dormant, on the forest floor, the fire would wipe out the forest and there would be nothing to bring new life to the Redwood population.
Good things take time, and these remarkable organisms wait sometimes thousands of years to show their fruits. But, they are working constantly to ensure that when the critical moment ticks across the clock, they are ready. While we are waiting for “direction” there are countless things that we can do to make ourselves better all-around humans, and ensure that we are ready to respond in each and every critical moment along the journey.
“Waiting for direction” can be a fancy term for apathy. “Not this,“ like my running friend said, is not a dream. Dreams are not built around what not to do; they are built toward things. Let’s not make excuses; let’s take action. In the book of John, Jesus talks about being a Shepherd to the people. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (10:10). If sheep want to live, they should follow the shepherd. Jesus did give us abundant direction of what to do with our lives. He spoke through the example of his time on earth. If we look at Jesus’ life, we see that he loved, served, listened and cared endlessly. We could sit and wait forever to see what God would have us do, or we could realize that he has already told us what we can always be doing.
Maybe you are waiting for a big thing to do in your lifetime. Maybe you need direction for the overall arc of your life. In the meantime, why not follow Jesus’ example? We all have countless opportunities to do live out the directions that Jesus gave us thousands of years ago—perhaps during the same times when the Honey Mushroom was just beginning to grow in North America. The apostle James offered advice in his letters on how to listen for God’s direction. He concluded as follows: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). There are simple things that we can always be doing, no matter where we are, or what big things we are waiting for.
Let this serve as an encouragement to not skip the beauty and opportunities in everyday life. When Josh Hilferty was but a gangly manchild, he said, “Life is made up of thousands upon thousands of right nows.” His words align with the poetically cautionary statement from John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Let us cherish each moment as a treasure. While we serve and love every day, we can also be bettering ourselves for the future. Let our roots grow deep, wide and strong. Let us be ready for those big days in the future, while not wasting a single opportunity in all the fleeting moments of life’s many todays.