Lessons from the Redwoods

By Marianne Vangoor  |  September 7th

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to walk among giants! I was in Muir Woods in California, the home of some of the world’s tallest trees. As I stood amazed and humbled at the feet of these towering trees, I found out that some of these giant trees thought to be about 2000 years old were seedlings when Christ walked the earth! That is incredible, pointing to our awesome Creator God!

We know that God loves trees, and trees are mentioned throughout Scripture stretching from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the new heaven and earth in Revelation. Trees are often used as a metaphor for how people are to live.

Jeremiah 17:7 - 8 is one such example: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

When I previously heard this passage, I used to picture a big weeping willow. However, standing among the redwoods gave me a new image, especially when I learned a few more interesting facts about these trees—facts that hold life and leadership lessons for me (and for you too!). 

Redwood Sequoias become stronger through suffering and challenges. Forest fires—the enemy of many trees—are actually a necessity for the redwood, as they need fire to open their seed cones and to burn the undergrowth that could stunt the growth of the saplings that begin to grow around them. Redwoods appear to suffer “with purpose”, which is something I have generally tried to avoid. What if I turned my perspective around and more often asked what refinements to my character are being made through the fires that I face?

God supplies protection for these massive trees by giving them a dense, thick bark to protect them from the flames. Their bark can be over 30 cm thick which makes them fire adaptive, enabling them to thrive in severe conditions. Is my leadership skin thick enough so I can thrive in conditions that are challenging? Am I adapting to the conditions in which I find myself, and seeing new opportunities for growth as things are burned away? If God supplies protection for the trees of His creation, I can hold fast to the truth that He will provide for me as well. John 16:33b reminds me, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

However, I was most amazed by a third fact that I think applies most directly to Christian school leaders. Redwoods thrive in groups or clusters. Single, lone trees will grow, but they do not reach the towering height of those that grow together. Surprisingly, these giant trees have shallow roots that go down only between 1.8 to 3.6 meters, yet they are able to withstand storms and high winds because their roots are intertwined among those of their neighbours. The roots of one tree can extend over an acre, intertwining with many other trees and giving them the ability to withstand the storms of life for over 2000 years! 

As leaders, we each need to ensure we are not standing alone in the storms that will come our way in this next year. Who is in your cluster or network of roots? Do you have a formal or informal leadership team at your school? Are you connected and involved with your regional cohort for school leaders? These groups are meant to be places of support, encouragement, information, and wisdom to help school leaders through the trials and stresses of leadership life. Learning from the example of the redwoods, I hope that you will make it a priority to stand and grow together with your fellow school leaders in order to weather the storms that are ahead and even come out stronger.

Marianne Vangoor is the Leader in Residence at Edvance.