By Marcia Ostendorff
My views about these passages in Luke and Isaiah have changed over the years. I did not understand the value of rest or the importance of just being. Yes, we are worthy even when our lives are not obviously fruitful.
In Luke 13, I never cared much for the attitude of the landowner. A successful man, who when he looked at the young fig tree said, “Cut it down.” He should have known better. The landowner should understand what trees need.
The fruit of a fig tree is an important source of food and income in the Middle East. However, it takes time for any tree to produce fruit. Most need a period of years to mature and produce fruit, including seasons of rest, heat and cold. It might seem as if nothing is happening. But, even when there is no obvious sign of fruit, wonderful things are happening in a tree.
The mere presence of a tree is a precious gift. In winter, we enjoy the beauty of bare limbs against the sky. In summer the shade and green beauty soothe us on hot days. Observing a tree slows our heartbeat and helps us relax. Trees produce some of the oxygen we need to breathe. Trees absorb heat and carbon dioxide, provide shelter for birds, insects, and other animals, even when they are not producing fruit. They are being present.
I once worked with a guidance counselor who showed me the importance of being. Jim often appeared to be relaxing in his office chair. The door was usually open, inviting one and all to stop and chat. He was a joyful Captain Kangaroo kind of guy. Yes, of course, he sported the hair and the mustache. When asked, “What are you up to today, Jim?” The response was usually, “I’m just being.” Our principal hated that response. Jim was supposed to be doing something obviously productive. But, like the fig tree, what he was doing did not look productive in the way we might expect.
Every day at noon, Jim left his peaceful office and headed down the hill to the cafeteria. He would walk around the tables, casually greeting students by name and asking about their day. It was loud, a little stinky, and in no way conducive to enjoying a peaceful meal. Faculty quickly left the room unless they were assigned to lunch duty.
But, Not Jim. He would stop and talk with those loud, stinky people, steal a few french fries, congratulate a young musician, athlete, or actor on their latest awards and accomplishments, shake hands, and smile. Then, he would sit down with them. He looked for the kids who sat alone and joined them. He asked about parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins. Jim told ridiculous jokes, he hummed, he sang, even danced a little. He stole more food.
And Jim listened. He discovered things about our students no one else knew. Because Jim chose to be with them. Like the fig tree, he did not seem to be particularly productive. In fact, he just looked like he was having fun. Just being with our students. Just being himself, our dear Jim.
God loves us and uses us wherever we are in ways we cannot recognize or even imagine. So, even if you don’t look or feel productive, are you worthy? The answer is an emphatic, “yes’!