In the middle of a rainy night in Georgia, the horrible sound of cracking, splintering wood jolted me out of a deep sleep. Reflexively, I sat straight up in bed, screamed and then braced myself for the crushing impact of the falling tree that seemed to be headed straight toward our roof.
Thankfully, that impact never came.
After a few stressful minutes of impending doom, it was obvious that we had been miraculously protected. I turned on some outside flood lights and unsuccessfully tried to see where the tree had fallen. The next morning, I realized that the surrounding woods had caught the impact of the tree’s destruction. We were spared damage to our home and perhaps, even, to our lives.
As the tree removal was underway a few days later, I discovered that the massive oak tree, while appearing healthy before the fall, had succumbed to a disease called “heart rot.” It is a fungal disease that slowly causes the decay of the heartwood at the center of the trunk.
How does heart rot enter a tree? Through wounds in the bark. And slowly, over time, the diseased heartwood softens and makes the tree structurally weaker and prone to breakage. It’s often not obvious on the outside of the tree. But when the majestic tree falls, it crushes whatever is in it’s path: a house, a car…sometimes, tragically, even a person.
Heart rot happens in people, too. A seemingly upright, trustworthy and honorable man or woman succumbs to shocking moral failure. And if you’ve been in the path of the fallen, you understand the enormous pain and destruction that can crush your own life as collateral damage. Marriages, families, ministries and legacies are often severely wounded or destroyed.
How does heart rot begin? “Through wounds in the bark.” In trees and in people.
All of us will be wounded as we go through life. The big questions are what we will do with the wounds and what we will allow the wounds to do to us.
Often, because of hurtful life experiences, a person might feel justified in becoming bitter or unforgiving. And over time, that unforgiveness or wounding allows heart rot to enter in the form of anger, a sense of entitlement or justification, or behavior to numb the pain in a variety of destructive ways. “Little” sins and “white lies” become habitual. Self deception increases. Sensitivity to others decreases. Poor choices compound. Addictions develop. Authenticity is replaced by ever-present masks.
Given time and secrecy, the heart rot spreads. A challenging season arrives, the winds of life blow stronger, and BOOM, the seemingly healthy tree falls. And oh, the destruction. Incredulous, we wonder “what happened?” In reality, the weakening and decay had been underway for years. The fall was just a matter of time.
What can we learn from these tragedies and how can we avoid heart rot in our own lives? How can we continue to grow, stay strong, rooted and faithful? How can we encourage one another to “finish well?”
I know that life is not as simple as following a series of bullet points. Many of these suggestions are easy to list and much harder to actually implement. Perhaps you have fallen yourself or been crushed by another’s choices. Recovery might seem impossible. I understand. But no matter how far you have fallen or how badly you have been hurt, restoration is possible. It takes time and you’ll need to press through the pain. Please don’t take the easy way out and succumb to heart rot. God truly can bring beauty from ashes and He promises to bind up the broken hearted! I’m living proof.
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”
Receive a regular dose of encouragement by signing up for the Leave Nothing Unsaid / Jody Noland newsletter!