By Mark Laws, M.Div., Chaplain
The other day I heard someone sigh, “I am so useless!”
The pathos in this admission touched my heart. I must admit that I have also indulged in a little negative self talk. I think it is part of human nature to wonder about our usefulness and purpose. Have you ever noticed that self doubt and discouragement also accompanies the questions of usefulness and purpose?
The good news is that I discovered a great story that really helped me to see my usefulness and purpose in a meaningful way. It goes like this…
Once upon a time a woodcutter took his grandson into the forest for his first experience in selecting and cutting oak trees. These they would later sell to the boat builders. As they walked along, the woodcutter explained that the purpose of each tree is contained in its natural shape: some are straight for planks, some have the proper curves for the ribs of a boat, and some are tall for masts. The woodcutter told his grandson that by paying attention to the details of each tree, and with experience in recognizing these characteristics; someday he too might become the woodcutter of the forest.
A little way into the forest, the grandson saw an old oak tree that had never been cut. The boy asked his grandfather if he could cut it down because it was useless for boat building - there were no straight limbs, the trunk was, short and gnarled, and the curves were going the wrong way. "We could cut it down for firewood," the grandson said. "At least then it will be of some use to us." The woodcutter replied that for now they should be about their work cutting the proper trees for the boat builders; maybe later they could return to the old oak tree.
After a few hours of cutting the huge trees, the grandson grew tired and asked if they could stop for a rest in some cool shade. The woodcutter took his grandson over to the old oak tree, where they rested against its trunk in the cool shade beneath its twisted limbs. After they had rested a while, the woodcutter explained to his grandson the necessity of attentive awareness and recognition of everything in the forest and in the world. Some things are readily apparent, like the tall, straight trees; other things are less apparent, requiring closer attention, like recognition of the proper curves in the limbs. And some things might initially appear to have no purpose at all, like the gnarled old oak tree.
The woodcutter stated, "You must learn to pay careful attention every day so you can recognize and discover the purpose God has for everything in creation. For it is this old oak tree, which you so quickly deemed useless except for firewood, that now allows us to rest against its trunk amidst the coolness of its shade.
May God richly bless as you provide shade for others, Chaplain Mark