“You know why the trees are leaning to the west, don’t you?” I asked my sister.
“Well yes,” she responded. “Plants always grow toward the light.”
“Actually the light is retarding the growth,” I replied. "The growth is actually taking place on the dark side of the plant. The light is actually preventing the growth."
My comments stopped her in her tracks. I had taken college Botany close to 30 years ago and I remembered performing the experiments in the lab where light was only provided to a plant on one side and we would monitor the growth of the cells. In other experiments, we would measure the growth of plants where they had light 24 hours a day or where we would deny the plants light at all. What we discovered was that plants will grow faster then they don’t have any light at all…for a while anyway. If the light is restricted long enough, the plants will die. I know now my explanation wasn't completely scientifically correct, but it is the dark side that is actually growing taster.
As we drove back to Tacoma later that day, we talked about the light…and darkness…and growth. It is amazing when we think about the interaction that occurs between those three elements. And not only in plants, but in our lives as well.
Like many people, one of my phobias is the fear of the dark. I really think that it is a natural, innate fear in most of us that gets reinforced in a variety of ways throughout our life. For me, I had plenty of opportunities during my childhood to reinforce the fear. His name was Geoff (my little brother.) He seemed to take great pleasure in finding ways to startle…or outright terrify me in the dark on our farm in North Idaho. Eerie old barns and garages and trees gave him all the tools that he needed. Very few people like the dark.
But sometimes the seasons of our life can also be filled with darkness. They are times when we can’t see clearly what’s going on…or where we are headed…or what the future holds. I’ve been there more than once. The three years I spent in prison were one of the darkest times of my life. I saw a lot of men there who were slowly dying. Not in a literal sense, but dying nonetheless. They hadn’t learned the lesson of the plant.
An interesting phenomenon is actually occurring in the plant on the dark side…on the side away from the light. When the light strikes the plant, a hormone is produces that migrates to the cells located in the darkness. And this hormone causes an amazing thing to happen. It causes the plant cells on the dark side to stretch!! As a result, these elongated cells “bend” the plant toward the light (which we interpret as growing toward the light.) I love this lesson of nature because that’s what I need to do when I find myself in a season of darkness.
When we are surrounded by darkness, that’s when we have the opportunity to grow the most. We get stretched in ways we’ve never been torn before and find ourselves facing situations that we don’t have an answer for or an understanding of. The real growth in our lives occurs during the darkest times. It’s when we feel hated and ostracized that we can best learn to love and forgive. It’s when we are poor and have nothing that we learn the real value of giving…even if it means we give the last that we have. It’s when we are sickest that we appreciate what little health that we have remaining…or choose the live out the last days of our lives the best we can. It’s when we see someone that we love dying (or hear of their sudden death) that we examine the true value of every person’s life.
But like the plant, we have to allow the “light” that is there to stir within us the willingness to be stretched. We have to be willing to endure the dark season because it leads us to the light season. A time when our life flourishes and grows stronger. When we can celebrate the lessons and changes that occurred in the darkness. A time that we can let our light shine into the lives of those who find themselves in the dark.