What I Learned About The Spiritual Life From a (Half-Dead) Baby Live Oak Tree

Charles Kiser —  May 23, 2013 — 4 Comments


When we moved into our first house three years ago, my parents bought us a baby live oak tree as a house-warming present. My dad came over and we planted it in the front yard together. We drove stakes into the ground and tied supports to the tree to keep it from falling over. It was probably 7-8 feet tall at the time.

I was pretty excited.

I was like a little kid who gets a dog and then realizes he is responsible to feed it, walk it, and clean up after it when it eats pillows or pees in the house. It’s really exciting at first; but it’s a lot harder than it seems.

Add to this that while I love landscaping, I am true to form as an entrepreneur: I’m a great starter but a terrible sustainer. I’d much rather let other people maintain something I’ve built than maintain it myself.

This makes it difficult when the tree needs good doses of water on an ongoing basis and there is no automatic sprinkler system to put on cruise control. In fact, I’m pretty sure I killed the big oak tree in our back yard because I failed to water it well. Granted it was dying when we moved into the house. But the arborist said the intensity of the Texas summer and “heat exhaustion” were the cause of its death. We had to pay $1000 to have it removed.

It was no wonder, then, when I was staring at the tree a few weeks ago, I observed that the top half of this little live oak tree was nearly dead. I hadn’t watered it well.

So I got out the loppers and started pruning it. I cut back growth from the bottom of the tree to try to allow water to get up to the top of the tree more easily. I cut out as much of the dead stuff from the top of the tree as I could without making it look like I gave the tree a “butt cut.”

While I’m pruning it, some tree professionals drove up, rolled down their window, and gave me some three-fold advice: 1) You need to prune it way back – even further than you already have. 2) You need to give it some protein. 3) You need to water it like crazy.

I hired them on the spot.

They pulled out the chainsaw and cut absolutely everything that wasn’t leaf-bearing out of the tree. It hurt me to watch. And yes, it got the “butt cut” after all – they cut off the center branch of the tree (the original trunk) at about seven feet, the original height of the tree.

Then they dug a hole in the ground and put a protein stick in the soil, covered it up, and flooded the ground with water around the base.

As they got back in their truck they said, “You just saved that little tree’s life.”

This story is a metaphor for the spiritual life.

Our spiritual tree will struggle and die unless we:

  • Regularly prune back anything that’s dead. We must prune back the dead spots of sin with repentance.
  • Give it supplements to make it healthy. Scripture is a great source of protein according to the FDA.
  • Water the ground around it like crazy by being present with God in prayer. Prayer brings us into contact with the living water of the Holy Spirit.

The very next day I went outside to check on my fragile little live oak (and water it). I could see the sprouts of a new branch and two new, bright green leaves.

It’s growing again.

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers. ~ Psalm 1:1-3

What insights are you gleaning from the (half-dead) baby live oak tree?

Charles Kiser


I’m a pastor, missionary, and contextual theologian in Dallas, Texas. I’m committed to equipping and coaching Christians to start fresh expressions of Christian community in Dallas County — communities of hospitality, inclusion, justice, and healing.

4 responses to What I Learned About The Spiritual Life From a (Half-Dead) Baby Live Oak Tree


    Charles that is an excellent story and lesson.


    I truly appreciate the analogy of your half-dead baby live Oak tree and our spiritual walk. I was reminded of the importance in cutting back all of the dead parts. Though its a painful process for the tree and those observing, it is also encouraging to the tree and those observing when new growth and life sprouts! Thank-you.

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