However bad we may feel about ourselves, we are special to God and have a special place.
Along the forested shores of the Great Lakes stand vast tracts of spruce and birch. Every few years swarms of insects hatch, fly around a while, then bore holes through tree bark to lay their eggs for the next generation. They like spruce trees best. And they all go to the same tree.
One spruce formed her branches in almost a perfect cone. She stood so proud of her shapely green shades. The other trees were envious, and that made the spruce tree even more proud. But one summer the insects decided she was their tree.
The spruce didn’t even notice the first insect until it pricked and bored through her bark. What’s that? she wondered. Another prick. And soon she felt pricks from her trunk to her tip. “Help!” she cried out, but none of the other trees could help her.
“You’ve got insects all over you,” was all they could say.
She felt them boring and wriggling to the inside of her bark, especially at all the points where her branches grew out. “Oouw!” she cried. “Oohh!” she moaned. From top to trunk she groaned in pain.
Eventually the insects started climbing out of their holes and flying away, one by one until all had left. But the spruce still writhed in pain. All she could do was cover over each painful spot with an extra thick layer of wood. Until autumn came, she worked hard to cover over the infected spots. None of the other trees said a word. Soon winter whispered in with its blanket of snow, and the trees settled into a long sleep.
Come spring the tree still felt itchy and irritated. Again she worked as hard as she could to cover over the sore spots. She noticed bulges forming in all the places where she hurt, but at least the pain had decreased. Autumn and winter, then spring again.
Through the spring and summer the spots were so itchy that she kept working hard to add extra growth over them to sooth herself. But by autumn the bulges had grown pronounced and stuck out like tumors. “I’m getting so ugly,” she moaned. “All the other trees look beautiful now.”
The next spring the spruce felt a commotion inside her bark then the same pricking and wriggling feeling she’d had before. Her entire trunk broke out in pain as the hatched insects bored their way out of the bark and flew away.
“Oohhh!” she groaned in pain. And through the spring and summer, the spruce continued adding still more soothing growth over the painful spots.
By the following year the spruce was a mass of bulging tumors barely camouflaged by her thinning branches. “I look horrid,” she sighed. “But I can’t think about that any more. I just have to survive.”
One day two people walked slowly through the forest. They looked at each tree up and down. On most of them they sprayed a red mark. They stopped and looked at the knobby spruce. “Wow,” one of them said. The other wrote something in a book, but they did not spray her with a red mark.
“I want a red mark, too, like all the other trees!” the knobby spruce cried.The other trees shook their branches at her. “You can’t have a red mark. You’re ugly, and only pretty trees get red marks.” The knobby spruce began to sob. Her ugly bulges made her worthless, and she felt all alone.
A few days later, while all the other trees were admiring their red marks, a group of men with big trucks and loud machines stopped at the edge of the forest. They began cutting the trees down, one by one—every one that had a red mark. They worked swiftly and tirelessly with loud buzzing saws. Lopping the branches off each tree, they cut them down, right at the base. Each one fell with a thud.
The knobby spruce watched them all day long. For several days they worked their way through the forest. She was the only tree left standing. Alone. And worse, with all the other trees down, anyone could walk by and see how ugly she was. Several of the men stopped and stared at her. They even came closer to get a good look at all her monstrous bulges. She knew she wasn’t good enough to be cut like the other trees. She was ugly and ashamed. Eventually the men loaded all the trees onto huge trucks and drove away. The knobby spruce cried by herself in the middle of the empty space where the trees had once stood. “Why me?” she wept. “Why me?”
The next day three people drove up in a truck. They stood around the knobby spruce, nodding and saying, “This one’s perfect.”
The knobby spruce wished she could hide herself. They would probably do something terrible to her.
“How do they get like that,” one asked.
Another one cocked his head up at the knobby spruce and explained. “Insects bore holes through the bark and lay eggs inside. Then the tree has a chemical reaction. That is, the tree reacts to the foreign substance and builds up a layer of growth around it. The eggs eventually hatch, and the new insects bore their way out. But year after year the tree continues adding layers of wood over the remaining shells left inside, until you get these incredible bulges up and down the central trunk of the entire tree. You see how it happens especially at each point where the branches come out.”
The knobby spruce was not comforted. Then one of the people started up a buzzing saw and began cutting her branches. But unlike the other tree cutters, this one cut slowly and carefully. Another person watched and told him exactly where to cut. Eventually they cut off all the knobby spruce’s lower branches. Then they cut her down at the base and she fell to the ground. They cut off all the remaining upper branches except one. She was now totally bare for all the world to see how ugly she was. She knew these people would do something terrible.
They loaded her carefully into their truck and drove away until she was finally laid inside a large room. Around the walls stood lifeless strips of cut-up wood. The knobby spruce gasped. Those boards were spruce! If that’s what happened to her neighbors, surely they would crunch her up or burn her.
She lay along a wall in the big room for a long time drying up. Days and weeks and months passed until one day a man pulled her out and began carefully stripping off all of her bark down to the smooth wood surface. This was worse than anything she could think of. She was completely ashamed. Her grotesque bulges and one branch sticking out were worse than death.
Then the man opened a large can and with a brush covered her in a smelly, shiny liquid that eventually dried to make her not only naked and ugly, but shiny besides. That would only attract people’s attention.
Several days later the three people again loaded her on a truck gently and carefully, this time with cushions underneath her. At least she was comfortable. But where were they taking her?
The truck stopped in front of a grand, beautiful old hotel. It was the most beautiful thing the knobby spruce had ever seen. Its roof swept down over a broad porch with big windows all along the rusty wood-stained walls.
Before she knew what was happening, she had been plopped into a hole right in front of the hotel’s main entrance. The people that brought her hammered and tied braces around her so she would not tip or move at all.
She cried in horror, “How cruel can they be? Now everyone in the world will see how ugly I am!”
They hung two chains from her one remaining branch and attached to them a big sign. The sign read in decorative letters, “Welcome to the Royal Spruce Hotel”
Soon people from the hotel came out to look.
“Isn’t that beautiful?” said one.
“Where did they find it?” said another.
Still more gathered. “Lovely,” they said.
The knobby spruce couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
The workmen had barely finished before the hotel guests had their cameras out and proudly got their pictures taken in front of the knobby spruce and her sign.
For Thought and Discussion
- In what ways have you felt like the spruce, unworthy or ashamed? What does 1 Corinthians 1:26–31 say about that?
- Feelings of unworthiness are often the hardest feelings to overcome. Have you known another person who felt like the knobby spruce and overcame these feelings? Has this happened in your own life? Describe the process.
- Do you believe God has a purpose for you based on who you are, but that you’re not yet aware of? How might you discover and pursue that option? How would you apply Jeremiah 29:11–13 to your situation?