Real Men and Oak Trees

A comment exchange from a previous post got me thinking about an idea I first read in a book by Gordon MacDonald. I don’t remember the exact book and I really don’t even remember if it is, in fact, a quote by him. Nonetheless, the concept obviously stuck with me even if I don’t remember who actually said it.

A real man is, in many ways, a lot like an oak tree.

The wood of an oak tree is more dense than that of just about any other tree in the forest. This quality makes the oak tree one of the strongest and most hardy of all trees. Because oak wood is also high in tannin, it is extremely resistant to insect and fungus attacks as well. Without getting too deep into the science of tree hardiness, the gist of the matter is that oak trees are the mountain men of the tree world.

In its full glory, an oak tree is one of the most impressive looking trees in existence. It provides shade from the sun, shelter from storms, and it’s acorns are not only a great source of food for squirrels but they grow up to be mighty oak trees themselves.

The roots of an oak tree are extremely deep and extensive. A mature oak tree can draw up to 50 gallons of water per day out of the soil around it.

Because of the strength of its wood, the oak tree is one of the most useful types of timber known to man. Since the middle ages, people have been building impressive structures out of oak: palaces, naval ships, fine furniture, treasure chests… just to name a few.

However, despite the great strength of the oak tree and its hardy resistance to attacks from external pests, when an oak tree does fall, it is often sudden and without warning.

The death of an oak tree often takes place from the inside out and while the fall seems sudden, the dying process is not quick at all. Because of the great strength of the oak tree, it can often live for years despite being infected with a deadly infestation. As time passes though, the fungus or insects literally hollow out the inside of the roots and trunk of the tree. Often times this happens while the tree is still growing. As the tree grows taller and wider, the inside becomes more and more hollow. And yet, from the outside, everything about the tree looks fine. It continues to provide shade, continues to provide shelter, and continues to produce acorns.

Then one day a strong gust of wind shakes the tree or some other object applies too much pressure on the trunk, and without warning, an otherwise healthy and mighty looking oak tree comes crashing down.

Real men are like oak trees in this and many other respects. A real man has roots that run deep and help him draw life from his surroundings. His strength creates an environment of safety. Acorns of wisdom fall from his mouth when the season is right and his children grow up to be mighty in their own right. His friends and loved ones find rest in the shade of his presence. In his prime, if he has healthy roots… if his inside is pure… if he has cultivated a deep inner strength, a real man is one of the most stable and mighty of all God’s creations. He is able to withstand great weight, trial, and pressure.

And yet… when a man does not have deep roots to draw life from, when he has not cultivated an inner strength, when his insides are ridden with infection and disease, he is one of the most vulnerable creatures alive. No matter how much external success a man has had and no matter how much everything appears to be fine on the outside, a man who has not cultivated an inner strength is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Or better yet, he is a hollow oak tree waiting to fall.

While everything looks good on the outside for a man like this, eventually his diseased inside will betray his confident and strong looking bark. When the pressure’s on, when he is tempted to do wrong, when a situation calls for great strength, this man will crack and tumble like a once mighty oak tree that’s been infected with a fungus.

And when he falls, he not only makes a huge scene and loud noise, but he hurts and destroys just about everything and everyone in his landing path.

Men are like oak trees. And yet, unlike oak trees, as men we have the option on whether or not our insides are strong. We choose whether our emotional, spiritual, and physical roots run deep. We choose whether or not we cultivate an inner strength through self-discipline. And we choose whether we will stand or fall when life applies pressure.