Create your tree of life

If you're struggling to see the way ahead, try this simple exercise and ask God to reveal his purposes for you. By Fiona Wimsett

My family is fortunate to live in a lovely old vicarage in Devon, complete with 'vicarage garden', in the most rambling and hard-to-manage sense of the word(!). Part of the garden is given over to an orchard of very old apple trees and the children take great pleasure, at this time of the year, in picking a basketful of fresh fruit, either for ourselves and those we know, or to leave by the gate for passers-by to help themselves.

At 'apple time', I am always reminded of the beautiful passage in Jeremiah, where the prophet tells us: "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when the heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought. And never fails to bear fruit". Jeremiah 17:7-8.

It is easy to feel blessed when the trees are full of fruit, when the sun is beating down on us and life is easy and carefree. Giving away the fruit in a basket by the gate is our way of reminding ourselves to be grateful for all that we have, and not to be complacent in our wealth. We thank the trees for giving us fruit to eat and we thank the fruit for bringing us health and nourishment. In that way, the trees become our friends.

Very soon, our orchard is laid bare and the twisted, elderly trunks and branches dotted with lichen are a ghostly sight against darkening winter skies. Thunderstorms and, very occasionally, snow and ice batter them. It is all too easy to forget to say thank you when they seemingly have little to give us, and we in turn have nothing from our bounty to give to others. Then, we must picture them in the year to come, and thank them for what they once more will be, if we lovingly do all that we know to do for them in their resting time. And we must wait and trust that God will furnish them again.

It is not hard to understand how Jeremiah likened our lives to that of a tree. To trust in God and bring all our joy and sorrow to him is to be, and to grow, like a tree, which is planted by a stream, whose roots are always nourished and who needs never fear that God will not tend and nurture, and bring to fruition its life so firmly planted in him.

Like our apple trees, there will be winter times of quiet and rest, when nothing seems to move and nothing seems to happen.

Both are necessary in God's scheme of things, and it is in the times of quiet and inactivity that deep within us, we are being prepared for a new time of growth and outpouring to come. We should not be afraid, but stay close to the Lord and do all that he lays before us to do each day, waiting patiently for him.

Our apple orchard has taught me to do a little exercise, which helps me see more clearly the tangled web of my life's experiences and where God might be leading me. I am sure that each time I do it, I hear the Lord's quiet whisper in the branches of the tree, which is my own life, showing me how he is moving in me; where he is leading and where, together, we have come. I would like to share that exercise with you and pray that whenever you do it, you will gain a new clarity for your own life too.

You will need a large piece of paper and a few coloured crayons or pencils. You are going to draw the tree, which is your life. Don't worry that you are not an artist. This is as simple and yet as profound as child's play.

First of all, on your paper, draw the roots of your tree. On each root, write down or use a symbol to represent a childhood memory. It doesn't matter how trivial or how serious. Just write it down on a root.

Next, draw the trunk of your life tree. Here - write or draw the first things that come to mind about your adolescence; going to college, your first job, your friends and any important moments.

Now your branches. On each branch note an experience from the years which followed.

You will also have smaller branches. Draw them in and write or draw on them the things you dream about and the things you hope for. Feel free, as you create ...

Lastly, draw some fruit on your branches. In them, write the memorable moments of your life, that you would like to record and be nourished by.

Now pin up your drawing somewhere, stand back and look at it. Perhaps you will notice that it has an odd shape? Perhaps growth was stunted somewhere in your life and your branches were forced to take another direction, in order to reach for the light? Perhaps the shape of your tree alone will give you a message? I know that mine did.

I found that I had few childhood memories to form the roots of my tree, as it had been largely a painful and stifled time of my life; and yet, as the rest of the tree took shape, I could see in what I had drawn and sense in the words and pictures that I had used, a growing strength as I met the light and warmth of God, pulling me gently upwards and outwards towards him (represented by a huge, yellow sun that I couldn't help putting in!).

You will have had negative life experiences too. Don't dwell on them in a negative way – but see how God has used or woven them into your life to bring about his will in you.

Perhaps it was around those times that a special person came into your life, and will be depicted in a fruit on your drawing? Thank God if you can and bring those painful things into the warmth and light of his love.

No matter what is happening in your tree of life, give thanks to God, always, for gratitude is like fertiliser to you and stimulates your health and your growth. Tend your life lovingly as we tend our apple trees, stay close to God in your prayer and your knowledge of him, through his Word; wait on him in the winter and summer times, taste and see that the Lord is good!