The Christmas season is now in full-swing, and at the risk of being controversial, I want to wade into an age-old Christmas debate:
Real tree versus fake tree.
Personally, I am Team Real Tree, all the way. Despite the hassle of buying it, or the inconvenience of cleaning it up, nothing beats the scent of Frasier Fir hanging in the air. It’s one of my favorite things about Christmas.
That said, there was a year when things didn’t go as planned. My husband and I bought a discount tree at a local store, and there were problems from the start. It had large, empty patches. It had brown spots. It felt dry. We should have read the signs. But I figured I could hide the bald areas with extra garnish, so we took the tree home anyway.
For the first few days, the tree looked stunning. I loaded it with ornaments, ribbon, and pearls. It was shiny and full, and it smelled incredible. But soon I began to notice something: the tree wasn’t taking any water. Typically, our trees would absorb water like a sponge, but not this one.
Something was off.
Soon the needles became prickly. The branches became shriveled and dry. And that smell that I loved? Soon it was replaced by the smell of rot. That’s when I realized our tree wasn’t simply “off.” Our tree was dead.
My husband and I will always remember that year as a definitive Christmas tree fail, but I will remember it for a second reason also. It reminds me that no matter how beautiful, no matter how full, no matter how glittery, alive-looking, and bright, a Christmas tree is still a dying tree.
And this, I am convinced, is a metaphor for our spiritual lives.
So many of us are “Christmas tree Christians”: we are pretty and put together on the outside, but withering on the inside. Our faith is cut off from its root system, while still maintaining the appearance of life. We look healthy, but the truth is we’ve gotten really good at faking it.
This charade is especially tempting for leaders, whose gifts can mask their spiritual health. For many of us, our leadership talents are the sparkly ornaments we hang on our branches, obscuring the rootlessness beneath us. And as a result, the decay takes months, even years, to make itself known. Like Christmas trees–which can hide their withering longer than the average tree–we are skilled at concealing our dead spots for long periods of time. We can appear to be flourishing, even when we’re not.
So this holiday season, whether you have a real tree or a fake tree in your home, let its presence serve as a reminder to check your roots. Are you piling on the decorations of Christian leadership and service, while neglecting the source of your spiritual life? Are your roots firmly planted in God and His Word, or are you experiencing the slow and quiet decay of disregarding time with Him?
God certainly values our service to Him, but don’t allow leadership to become a façade which masks a disconnected soul. As John 15:5 reminds us, the measure of a strong faith is one that abides in the Lord, but a rootless faith will ultimately yield a fruitless faith.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
- John 15:5
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, PhD, and mom. She blogs at SheWorships.com, and she is the author of Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You (2017). You can connect with Sharon on Instagram.