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Few things offer such dazzling sensory appeal as a fragrant, fully decorated Christmas tree. We place them in a prominent spot, we spend hours adorning them with cherished ornaments, and we stare at their beautiful lights.
We know the history, that pagans felt these evergreens represented life and rebirth during the coldest months. But Christians took that tradition and made it our own by adding candles and lights to symbolize Christ, and then surrounding it with gifts, symbolizing the gift of Christ to the world.
However, long before that tree in your living room had an angel or a star on top and ornaments sparkling in its branches, it was growing somewhere. If you cut your own tree, you know exactly where it grew. If not, you still knew it took years to attain the size you selected at the Christmas tree lot.
Most of us appreciate trees. We love their shade, their blossoms, their fruit, their mere existence. They beautify the world and keep our planet livable. And if someone asked you to draw one, you could fashion a trunk and limbs that anyone would identify as a tree. In fact, this might make an interesting Family Home Evening activity.
But the part we rarely consider is what’s under the tree. In the case of most firs and pines used for Christmas trees, there’s a vast root system and often a deep tap root that can extend as deep as the tree is tall. But because it’s underground and we can’t see it, we ignore it (unless roots invade our water pipes). Like noticing only “the tip of the iceberg” we forget there’s an entire substructure below the surface. Even if you use an artificial tree, you can still imagine a similar live tree, and its roots.
Depending on the soil and the available water, a large pine tree’s tap root can reach 75 feet deep. These anchors offer stability against strong winds, and also store energy. The tree will also have a network of more shallow roots, and thick heart roots, all gathering nutrients and providing stability.
Aren’t we the same? As you look at your own life with its spiritual ups and downs, what has kept you going? Is it that indelible testimony you received from the Holy Ghost? When you felt you were in a spiritual drought, did you have a deep enough tap root to keep you alive?
President Thomas S. Monson said, “If we do not have a deep foundation of faith and a solid testimony of truth, we may have difficulty withstanding the harsh storms and icy winds of adversity which inevitably come to each of us.” (“On Being Spiritually Prepared”, Ensign, Feb 2010)
Not one of us escapes life without trials. But some of us will wither under the scorching sun of adversity, and some will blow over in the violent storms of loss and grief. With a shallow root system and lack of nourishment, we will lack the strength to thrive.
I’m seeing too much of this today. I’ll bet you are, too. People you thought were strong, valiant trees are suddenly gone. Maybe we misjudged their strength– we were looking only at the tops, the part that showed above ground. Somewhere, somehow, they lacked a sufficient tap root– the nourishment to survive the winds of doubt and the faith to endure the sting of life’s disappointments.
How can we ensure our own strength? How can we develop that deep tap root that will carry us through the droughts and storms that lie ahead? And how can we help our children do the same?
Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “We may not avoid every storm of life, but following the counsel of living prophets will help us ride out the storm.” (“Ride out the Storm,” Ensign, November 2013). I cannot think of any counsel more frequently given by our leaders to arm us against the heat of battle, than to daily read the Book of Mormon. Elder Cook has also, many times, advised temple attendance to keep us unwavering in our devotion to our faith. Serving others with the pure love of Christ also echoes through the years as we recall talks by God’s chosen servants.
Elder Adhemar Damiani, in the April Conference of 2005, said, “If we daily exercise faith, meekness, charity, and lowliness in heart, confessing that Jesus is the Christ, and accepting His Atonement, we will be blessed with the strength and hope to face and overcome the trials and pains of this life.”
And I have to think that part of the “solid testimony of truth” President Monson mentioned, is a firm conviction that this is Christ’s church, restored in latter days. Knowing the restoration was real, that Joseph Smith was telling the truth, is essential. There are too many casualties among cultural Mormons who grew up attending ward dinners and going to scouts, but never actually praying– in their own Gethsemane moment– for a firm witness of that glorious account. For me, the First Vision is my tap root. No matter what pummels me, from life’s hardships to the offensive comments we’ve all heard, that’s what it comes back to. I will keep attending, keep serving, and keep striving because the Holy Ghost has told me the restoration really happened.
This Christmas as we admire beautiful Christmas trees, let’s pause and picture the tap root that helped them grow to such a stature. Then let’s think about our own tap root, and resolve to have that “deep foundation” our prophet advised. And may this new perspective forever change the way we look at Christmas trees, and make them a glorious reminder of what we need to be about.