I’m not exactly sure when it fell, but when I awoke on Easter Sunday, there was a large tree on our storage shed. Perhaps it had fallen during the night. Or maybe it had been while we were visiting family the day before.
The stump caught my attention first. Three feet of jagged wood pointed skyward where the tall shade tree used to stand. I did a double take and assessed the scene. Like a tall man on a sofa too small for his stature, the bulk of the tree rested partially on the shed roof with the rest spilling over on the other trees on the edge of our property. It had been windy all weekend, so it wouldn’t have surprised me to find branches downed all over the yard. However, I hadn’t expected this tree to fall.
This was a sturdy tree, big enough that I could barely wrap my arms all the way around. From all outside appearance, this tree was healthy, and it wasn’t until it snapped off that I could see the real condition of it. The stump was mostly hollow, except for a few sawdust remainders and later when my husband and sons began to cut up the tree with chainsaws and axes, we discovered the problem. When a large piece of log split open with the swing of the axe, hundreds of black carpenter ants scurried for shelter. With each split of another log section, more ants poured out of the wood. The splitting and cutting revealed intricate tunnels in the wood woven like a lacey sponge. But as the ants ate the wood turning its fibers into sawdust, they ate away the strength of the tree.
When the strong wind came, the tree had no power to withstand. Those little tiny ants brought down a giant oak. I imagine one little ant moved in and brought a small family at first. But as they multiplied, they grew to a number that had the ability to bring down the whole tree.
Have you ever met someone and wanted to ask, “What’s eating you?” Someone who spewed anger or negativity and carried a grudge for the world? That attitude probably started with a small larvae of bitterness. When bitterness first moves in, we might seem spiritually healthy. We continue to serve in our churches and volunteer for missions work. We love our families and friends and we care for the needs of others. We might be ministry leaders and teachers, but have a growing bitterness in our hearts. We hide it well. For a while.
When we allow bitterness to take residence, it multiplies and it begins to eat away at our soul. It hollows out our joy and devours our contentment and peace. And when life brings a giant windstorm of cancer, joblessness, family crisis, or disappointment, we snap just like the hollow oak.
Bitterness robs us of the spiritual stamina we need to live for Jesus Christ. It robs us of the ability to love unconditionally. And it robs us of the joy of our salvation. When bitterness tunnels its way through our hearts and our minds, we’re left with a sad emptiness. But there is one empty place that can give us hope.
The only hollow place with any power is the tomb of Jesus Christ. It is empty because he holds the power over the grave, and if death couldn’t take him down, it means he has power over the strongholds of sin as well. Because of his power over Satan and any grip bitterness might have on us, Jesus can fill us with a power that we never had on our own. Where bitterness has eaten away our resistance and stamina, he can remove it like an expert exterminator and replace those hollow places with the fiber of his own character. He can make us able to withstand more than we ever thought possible.
What’s eating you right now? Whatever it is, don’t let it live there. Let Jesus do some work in you so you’re ready to face the stress of everyday life and the big storms that test your resistance.