Shortly before his death, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote Youth and Age in which he reflected over his past and the strength of his earlier years.
To me, the most moving line in this quaint work is the statement: "Friendship is a sheltering tree...."
How true...how terribly true! When the searing rays of adversity's sun burn their way into our day, there's nothing quite like a sheltering tree — a true friend — to give us relief in its cool shade. Its massive trunk of understanding gives security as its thick leaves of love wash our faces and wipe our brows. Beneath its branches have rested many a discouraged soul!
Let me name a few. Elijah was ready to quit. Depressed and threatened, he turned in his prophet's badge and wrote out his resignation. God refused to accept either. He gave him rest, good food, and a "tree" named Elisha — who "ministered to him" (1 Kings 19:19-21). Using the analogy by Coleridge, Elijah rested in the shade of Elisha's "sheltering tree."
Paul had a similar experience. In fact, the trees in his life significantly sustained him. There was Barnabas who stood by him when everyone else ran from him (Acts 9:26-27; 11:25-26). There was Silas, his traveling companion over many an otherwise lonely mile (15:40-41). When you add Dr. Luke and Timothy and Onesiphorus and Epaphroditus and Aquila and Priscilla, you find a veritable forest of sheltering trees. Even Jesus enjoyed Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Even He was refreshed beneath those sheltering branches from Bethany (John 11:5).
But of all the trees God placed beside His choice servants, one human redwood looms the largest, in my opinion. David was hunted and haunted by madman Saul. Between Saul and David, however, stood a sheltering tree named Jonathan. Loyal and dependable, Jonathan assured David, "Whatever you say, I will do for you" (1 Samuel 20:4). No limits. No conditions. No bargain. No reservations. Best of all, when things were at their worst, he "went to David...and encouraged him in God" (23:16). Why? Because he was committed to the basic principles of a friendship. Because he loved him as he loved himself (18:1). It was the kind of love that causes men to lay down their lives for their friends, as Jesus put it (John 15:13). No greater love exists on this globe.
Beneath whose branches are you refreshed, dear reader? Or, dare I ask, who rests beneath yours? Occasionally, I run across an independent soul who shuns the idea that he needs such a shelter, feeling that trees are for the immature, the spiritual babes, or those who haven't learned to trust only in the Lord. It is that person I most pity, for his horizontal contacts are invariably superficial and shallow. Worst of all, his closing years on earth will be spent in the loneliest spot imaginable — a hot, treeless desert.
So, then, let's be busy about the business of watering and pruning and cultivating our trees, shall we? Would I be more accurate if I added planting a few? Growing them takes time, you know...and you may really need a few when the heat rises and the winds begin to blow.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, "A Sheltering Tree," Insights (May 1999): 1. Copyright © 1999, Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.