What’s wrong with this picture?
I’ll give you a hint. It’s not the bicyclists or the angle at which I shot the photo.
These trees are simply leaning in, like the way a dog tilts its head as it listens to a high-pitched sound.
We encountered these trees a few weeks ago on a bike ride outside of Bruges, Belgium as we neared the small village of Damme. Only in Dutch can you merely mention a town and sound like you’re swearing.
Apparently, the wind through that area is so consistent and pervasive that the trees have grown askew over the years, leaning to the side in a uniform sway. They didn’t get that way overnight but through long-term, persistent forces.
I realized on this trip to Europe that change for us is quite similar. I think back to when I was younger and the mere surprise and shock of a new place/culture or the distance from home on a trip was enough to create an often acute sense of change. Life transformation came fairly readily, or so it seemed at the time. But I’m not sure those so-called changes really stuck.
This trip, however, reminded me of the old adage that “no matter where you go, there you are.” There you are. You. Me. Our old selves. The ones we carry with us and can’t leave behind like an out-of-date suitcase or yesterday’s paper.
Just going away may make us aware of the rough edges in our lives. But changing them? That takes more than a trip or two. It takes work. It requires new habits.
If we really want to change, we’ll need to apply small but consistent efforts over time. A long time. We’ll have moments when things seem better. But also long stretches when nothing seems to budge.
Yet when we step back, we can see that time and effort can have a dramatic effect. If we cultivate the good habits, the holy habits and spiritual disciplines we know we need, then we see can positive changes. If not, we may one day wake up and realize how much we, like the trees near that Damme village (sorry, old habits – see? – die hard), have grown up in ways we didn’t expect or want.
Don’t get me wrong. Those trees seem to be doing quite well. And they’re rather beautiful in their distinctive tilt.
But that’s not how trees are meant to grow.