David thought in word pictures based on his experiences, so Psalm 23 made sense to him. But it’s hard to put myself in his sandals, for I’m not a sheep-tender. I love the imagery, and I know it’s scriptural, but the concept of “The Lord is my shepherd” doesn’t touch my soul.
I am a tree-lover. Inside the fence of our African compound, my missionary dad planted a variety of tropical fruit trees for food and a thousand neem trees for firewood. Just outside our property, a stately kuka (baobab) tree called my name, and further into the bush grew other exotic fruit for tasting and flowering trees for climbing. As a child, I made it my mission to try them all.
And so, I write my own poem.
The Lord is my Living Baobab Tree.
He wraps His massive branches around my slender frame.
I hide myself in the crook of His arm.
He is my place of peace and solitude and a gathering place for social encounters.
I view the world differently from Your height.
I soar in Your high branches and rock comfortably on your lower ones.
I might itch when I touch your pods, but the inside fruit tingles sweet-sour on my tongue.
You reveal Your secrets as I spend time in You.
You spread Your cool leaves above me and shelter me from sun and rain.
You invite me to climb, but I can never attain the topmost branches.
You are too lofty for me.
I want to dwell in Your branches forever.
I run to you when I feel pain or pleasure.
I run barefoot to Your roots and climb into Your lap, content.
You restore my soul.
Is God more than a shepherd or a tree? Of course. But the symbolism focuses on the senses. Can I taste God? (“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.”) Can I hear His rustling branches in the Spirit’s wind? Can I smell Him in the dampness of the roots of the earth? Or the odor of rain as it cleanses the dusty leaves? Can I touch Him? When I touch the unlovely, the poor, the prisoner, the orphan child, I touch the face of God. I can’t see Him with physical eyes, but I can see His handiwork, and I get to know the heart of the artist. I see His creativity, His passion, His bigness, His attention to detail, His order, His comfortableness with chaos. I sense His emotion in the fury of the hurricane as well as the gentle caress of whispered breeze on my cheek.
A 2022 Update. One day, while trying to still my heart on a hiking trail bench, the Lord said to me, “Be a tree.” I want to be an oak tree—stable and strong, where many can come and rest in my branches. Some of my leaves become diseased when outside forces ruin their beauty, but it’s okay for the bad parts to fall off so new growth can replace them. I want to feed the squirrels and provide shade for the tired and weary. And I want my branches to whisper, “Jesus loves you. God is here. Come and find peace.” He’s the invisible sap, the life inside me, flowing from root to healthy branch.
The Lord was David’s shepherd, but He’s my tree, and I want to be like Him.