Good Timber Grows: 7 Life Lessons Learned From Trees

“Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength. By sun and cold, by rain and snow, In trees and men good timbers grow.”  —Douglas Malloch

When was the last time you saw a tree?

No, really. When was the last time you actually took notice of a tree — seeing it with the childlike eyes of awe and wonder? Hopefully you will take a moment to pause and re-see a tree after reading this post, because there are more life lessons to be found in trees than anything you may be perusing on the six-inch screen in front of you.

Seven Life Lessons We Can Learn From Trees

1. What starts as a small seed can turn into a canopy of reality

Trees start incredibly small. The California Coast Redwood, the tallest tree in the world, begins as a seed that’s a mere inch or two in size. What starts as small as a dime can grow into a towering 300ft. buttress withstanding the fiercest of storms and lasting for hundreds of years (some are said to live over 2000 years!). These small, seemingly worthless seeds that fall to the ground in droves are the very seeds that may one day tower above the rest of humanity and creation, outlasting even the strongest of nations.

Life Lesson: the small things are the big things, because the big things come from the small things.

We are being trained and conditioned to only want the biggest and the best, which is not only impractical, it's also unhelpful. The small things are the big things. How you do anything is how you do everything. The small decisions you make, and the small steps you take add up over the days, weeks, months, and years that pass, all culminating in the life you live and the legacy you leave.

“If you think you’re too small to be effective you’ve never been in the dark with a mosquito.”  —Betty Reese

If you feel small and unimportant, that’s the best place to begin. Because the small things are the big things, and starting small is what gives us the freedom to learn as we grow without the consequences of failure being catastrophic to us or those around us (queue a 390ft. Coast Redwood crashing down).

2. Growing slow and steady is what allows for steadfastness in the storms

Coast Redwoods are among the fastest growing trees in the world, growing three to ten feet each year. That means, if it is to reach the towering heights of 200-300 feet, it will need at least 100 years (most trees grow a few feet on average each year). Can you imagine if trees were impatient?

Life Lesson: slow and steady wins the race; life is a marathon not a sprint.

Trees know that they’re in it for the long-run. They don’t believe in the “short-term gratification” nonsense. They simply and patiently grow, year by year, pushing upward and onward.

There are no shortcuts to growing a tree You can’t manufacture a massive tree overnight just as much as you can’t accomplish anything worthwhile in a day. 

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten.”  —Bill Gates

This is even seen in transplanting a tree. When you try to move a mature tree, it likely won’t survive because it loses a significant amount of it’s root-structure during the move. Similarly in life, winning the lottery rarely results in sustainable wealth. The shortcut is: there are no shortcuts. Be committed to the long-game.

3. Building our foundation is what allows us to build our influence

When a seed germinates (starts the growing process), it's “first step” is growing a tiny root downward to hold it in place and facilitate further growth by drawing in more water from the soil. A tree's roots serve many important functions: anchoring the tree, supplying water and soil nutrients for the rest of the tree’s body, as well as helping hold the soil in place, keeping it from eroding or washing away.

Life Lesson: in order for growth to be helpful, you must grow internally before you can grow externally

Notice the order of growth in trees: it is always growing down before it is growing up. Trees know that without a sturdy foundation, any growth that occurs above ground is more harmful than it is helpful. Height without depth is a dangerous equation, and a recipe for a major fall.

“What we achieve inwardly, will change outer reality.”  —Plutarch (Greek author)

We must take the time to grow internally before we can truly be helpful to those around us. We must build a firm foundation for our own lives before we can be a rock of support to others in our life. We must develop discipline and integrity — ultimately character — before others can (or should) look to you for guidance. You must lead yourself well before you can lead others well.

4. Seasons of ebb and flow actually help us grow (resiliency)

Trees are amazingly resistant but this resistance comes from opposition. When scientists created a biodome (an optimal environment for human, plant, and animal life) they were shocked when trees started toppling over after reaching a certain height. The scientists realized that the element they forgot to include in the biodome was wind, because wind is one of the key factors that cause roots to grow deeper and stronger. This has been shown through many different studies, all pointing to the fact that: a strong trunk is developed in response to the opposition of the wind.

Life Lesson: opposition, or resistance, is needed for growth to occur

Just as with trees, we need the wind to blow in our life. The trials and hardships we face are what forces us to become strong and resilient as a human beings, just as much as the wind forces a tree to grow sturdier trunks.

“Change and consistency are the two balancing weights on the seesaw of human experience, and God has given humanity the means to enjoy both of them by patterning the world with rhythm.”  —David Gibson

The ebbs and the flows of life are a good thing we just have to choose to see them that way, and sometimes making that choice will be a fight. Just like exercise in the gym, life will provide opportunities for us to put up that “tenth rep” — the only rep that really results in added strength.

5. Pruning is usually a good thing

Trees benefit from pruning. Pruning is: cutting off certain branches for the benefit of the tree as a whole. This helps maintain the natural tree-form, stimulate growth in sparse areas of the tree, remove the dead areas of the tree to help prevent insect infestation and disease, and  improves the overall safety of trees for us humans.

Life Lesson: saying no to the lesser things helps us say yes to the best things

Pruning isn’t a one-time occasion, but rather a continual process throughout the life of a tree. So to it should be a continual process in our own lives. As we live we accumulate more and more of anything and everything. The more you have, the more unclear it is what you actually want.

“Roses that are left unpruned can become a tangled mess of old and new canes all competing for air and light.” —Elizabeth Roth

“There are plenty of rivals to our work.”  —C.S. Lewis

We must learn what to say “no” to in order to be able to say “yes” to the things of greatest worth. Accumulation happens naturally, simplification happens intentionally. As Martin Fischer said: “Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.”

6. Growth is a life-long process

Trees never stop growing. They are literally growing till the day they die. In fact, trees actually grow faster the older they become! While this growth may stop taking place in height, trees will continue growing in girth their entire lives.

Life Lesson: growth can be achieved our entire lives, even if it looks different in different stages

Much like trees, we should never stop growing. Even though we will stop growing physically (and actually start decaying), we can still grow inwardly — emotionally, intellectually, and experientially. Being a life-long grower is a worthy goal to have, whether you’re a tree or a human.

“When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”  —Eleanor Roosevelt

“Being undead isn’t being alive.”  —E.E. Cummings

Growth can look like many things, but it always entails some sort of effort and intention. Decay is the natural result of inaction. The only thing that can counteract or overcome entropy is some sort of action or force. While it may look more physical in our youth, the later-stage growth of intelligence, wisdom, and experience are certainly just as, if not more important — taking the wisdom accumulated from life and empowering others, supporting them in their own growth journey.

7. Everything has been designed with intention for a reason

Trees are a vital part of earth, the planet in which we reside. They play a major role in the production of oxygen and in cleaning up the carbon dioxide in the air. They provide delicious fruit for us to eat, natural shade from the piercing sun, a canopy and residence for many animals and creatures to live in/on, and ultimately they provide the building materials for a plethora of products, structures, and aspects of modern life. Trees have been created for a purpose, and just like trees, we too have been made for a reason.

Life Lesson: we have been created for a purpose, given inherent worth and value that can’t be taken away

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever  —Westminster Shorter Catechism

Like trees, we have both a general overarching purpose as well as specific individual purposes. Finding the specific applications of your purpose is the work we are tasked with, the work of self-awareness. As Teddy Roosevelt once said: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” 

In closing:

“We can learn a lot from trees: they’re always grounded but never stop reaching heavenward.”  — Everett Mamor

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”   ― Chinese proverb

See a tree, and follow suit.