Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Happiness is...a flourishing tree

This little plant doesn't look like much, I know: just a spindly thing with fern-like leaves, needing a stick for support and shelter from the elements in a pot in my conservatory. It's not something I've ever seen in the UK, though they seem to be catching on in France. I have a bigger one planted in our garden there which has now survived two winters, and there are a growing number in public spaces. In a local park two much more mature ones have grown to small tree size, and in July and August, on top of the spreading canopy of leaves, there'll be a host of fluffy (reputedly fragrant) pink flowers.

It's an albizia, or Persian Silk Tree. When I first looked up its properties on the internet I delightedly discovered it was also sometimes known as a Tree of Happiness, because of its alleged medicinal use in the past for the treatment of depression. I think there are other plants with this name, but it has given me a reason to give them to my friends, and there are now half a dozen dotted around the south of England.

Growing outside, it is slow to acknowledge the arrival of spring, and where other plants are bursting into reassuring leaf it remains a dead-looking stick. But as I tell my concerned albizia-owning friends, it isn't dead, just biding its time. Perhaps I shouldn't be drawing analogies or seeking for symbolic meaning here, but it was I think C.S.Lewis who commented that humans are incorrigible myth-makers, and this tendency, it seems to me, is as God-given as our capacity to be awed by the vastness of the universe and the uncountable stars.

I have what seems to be an intractable desire for things to get done. My ideal would probably be: have an idea, pray about it, run it past a few trusted people, get the thing done, dust off and move on. But of course life isn't like that, and I have been made to wait more often than I liked. I grudgingly admit the usefulness (sometimes) of waiting, but I still fidget and fester and complain. As my time on this earth inevitably shortens, in some ways I find myself becoming less patient, not more so. Perhaps my little tree is one of God's lessons to me, I suspect in a spirit of wry humour. If my tree survives, I may never see it flower. When other saplings we have planted grow to maturity, we will be long gone. Yet they have all been planted in faith and the hope of beauty in years to come, for other eyes to marvel at. If I can plant trees in this spirit, maybe I can learn to apply it in other areas of life, including my writing.

I may be slow to learn patience, but I believe I am becoming more thankful. Despite the inevitable disadvantages of which most of us are aware: declining health, perhaps, or failing memory, or reduced mobility, (and I would never underestimate the effects of, for instance, long-term illness),  I do believe that there are many things to rejoice over as we get older: we may be wiser, more knowledgeable, more aware of God's mercies, more conscious of blessings, closer to God both now and in the promise of eternity. I am reminded of a missionary bishop who returned to the UK in  his sixties after many years of witness and faithful service overseas and who, far from resting contentedly on his laurels in retirement, said there was still much for him to do and the best was yet to be. I am certain too that the habit of thankfulness and praise is spiritually healthy! In the words of Joseph Addison, who died in 1719:
'Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ
Nor is the least a cheerful heart
That tastes those gifts with joy.'

So I shall keep watch on my trees, and try to nurture them, and perhaps one day, even if I don't get to see a huge white poplar or red oak, I may live long enough to see flowers on my Trees of Happiness. Meanwhile, just the fact that they are alive is reason enough for praise.

Sue Russell writes as S.L.Russell, with four novels published by New Generation and available in the usual places as paperbacks and e books: Leviathan with a Fish-hook, The Monster Behemoth, The Land of Nimrod and A Shed in a Cucumber Field. They are written from a Christian viewpoint; the first three are a trilogy, the fourth a stand-alone. A fifth, in a broadly similar genre, hopes to make its entrance in 2015.

Sue lives in Kent, and sometimes in France, with her husband, two grown-up daughters and Rosie the dog. She is an amateur singer and church organist.


  1. I love the analogy of your tree of happiness. As I get older I am indeed learning how to be more patient than I was, and also learning to be more thankful. And it does make life so much better. I wish I had learned it earlier. It's been a hard lesson to learn indeed but so worthwhile.

  2. I think any type of gardening is a great analogy for patience and for the work God does in, and through us. I love your little tree :)

  3. Such a great post. I have been thinking a lot about ageing lately and doing things like looking down at my hands thinking, "Those aren't mine! They're my mother's!" It can be depressing to think about too much and a new perspective is needed. Thankfulness is a great way of refocusing on what matters and continuing to believe that even in our, shall I say, more mature years, God will still use us. Thank you for your insightful post...