You are not a Machine. You are a Tree.

Joy Clarkson

by Joy Clarkson

Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.



Flourishing can be exhausting.

A day begins. We wake just a little bit early to spend quiet time in prayer and thought before turning to the rush and bustle of preparing for the day. As we make breakfast, the day turning in our minds, we feel a twinge of guilt about how tired we feel, how much we’d like nothing better than to crawl back into bed. We are thankful, really, for the children we get to love, care for, and educate; the meaningful work that pays our bills and puts food on our table; the friends and community that nourish us. But the relentlessness of day after day sometimes leaves us depleted. We wonder why we’re not productive as we once were. We worry about how our body has changed. We wonder why our prayers don’t feel as vibrant or easy as they once did.

By all accounts, our lives are flourishing. But we feel exhausted, stuck, and guilty. Why?

Perhaps it is because what we think of as flourishing isn’t true flourishing. Perhaps our exhaustion comes from a belief in a flourishing without seasons, without winter. Perhaps our guilt comes from a belief in a flourishing that comes from effort and not the gentle nourishment of God’s love.

Psalm 1:3 describes the flourishing person like this:

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.

Meditating on each phrase of this psalm gives us a beautiful, poetic image of what it is like to flourish in our life with God. Each phrase opens up like a bud to reveal a relieving truth.

Planted by streams of water

Some Bible scholars observe that this line evokes the imagery of an orchard; the tree described is not a wild tree by a river, but a tree planted by a gardener with great care near irrigated streams to nourish its roots. It is a loving image of humans cared for and loved by the good Gardener (John 20). But it also reminds us of something else: trees require nourishment to thrive. Their roots need water, rich soil, fungi, and even the roots of other trees. When we think of flourishing in life, we must look to nourishment; what is nourishing the roots of our soul?

Yields fruit in season

Trees do not bear fruit all the time; they bear it in season. It is easy to forget this and condemn ourselves when we find we don't have as much energy, don’t see as much fruit in our life, or our prayer life seems barren. When we do this, we are treating ourselves like machines who operate the same way every day, with replaceable parts, and valuable only for what they can do. But we are not machines. We are God’s trees, for whom He lovingly cares. Trees are not the same every day, and neither are people. We have seasons of blossoming and growth, of fruitfulness and harvest, of pruning and winter. Each of these seasons is important. This means we don’t need to be so hard on ourselves; we can trust that God is working in all seasons.

Leaf does not wither
Whatever they do prospers

These words depict an evergreen tree, and remind us that the spiritual nourishment of God is everlasting. A life in God, with our roots sunk deep in the garden he’s made for us and nourished by the streams of his living water, does not ensure that we will not have seasons of exhaustion or difficulty or loss, but that God, the good gardener, will see to the protection of our soul. Prospering may not look like we think it will, but we can trust that even seasons which seem barren will become, through His healing hands, fruitful. We can trust that when we are rooted and established in God’s love (Ephesians 3:17-19), cared for by the good gardener, though it may not look like the flourishing the world expects from us, our leaf will not wither and we will prosper.



Joy Clarkson is the author of You Are a Tree and host of the popular podcast, Speaking with Joy. She is the books editor for Plough Quarterly and a research associate in theology and literature at King's College London. Joy completed her PhD in theology at the University of St Andrews, where she researched how art can be a resource of hope and consolation. Learn more at