“If a tree falls in the forest, but no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound?”
I thought about this question in a very literal sense a few weeks ago when my father cut down a gigantic, old, dead tree in our backyard that was threatening to fall on our roof. My boys and I watched in amazement as the tree slowly creaked to the side, then very quickly slammed to the ground, bouncing a couple times upon impact. The sound of it colliding with the ground was tremendous and the vibrations it sent toward us were breathtaking. It was all very spectacular, and we were there to witness it.
But what if there is no one there to witness such an event? What if the tree’s magnificent fall is unheard by any living soul and its quake-like rumblings are never felt by a creature outside of its forest? Is its impact any less spectacular because it was done without the knowledge of others?
Today, I found myself thinking about this question in a more allegorical sense as I went about my business as a mother. So much of my “job” goes unseen by the outside world: the hours of training and disciplining my children, the countless dishes I wash, the never-ending mountain of laundry I fold and put away, the meals I prepare for my family… the list could go on and on. My work as a mother is largely unseen and unheard of by anyone outside the walls of our home. In the humdrum monotony of such mundane tasks it can be easy to question whether or not this work is valuable or whether it makes any kind of true impact on the world around it. These are quiet works in a very loud world.
Indeed, we live in a culture that thrives on self-promotion and affirmation and social media perfectly serves these idols, making it possible to purposely broadcast your life to the entire world. Even stay-at-home mothers like myself can make sure that our quiet works are seen and heard by thousands of people with a quick status update chronicling the challenges of our day. We can easily begin to grade our job performance by our thoughtfully filtered Instagram pictures and the number of likes we accumulate on each Facebook album of our children putting together crafts for homeschool. It can be easy in this day and age for us moms to fall into the trap of seeking the unsatisfying applause of this world because the means to do so is right at our fingertips.
The truth we forget, however, is that while the work moms do goes largely unnoticed by the world around them, there is One who takes great notice of our daily sacrifices of time, energy and passions. It is the Lord himself who “sees in secret” all the good works we do out of love for him and our families. (Matt. 6:4) It is this same God—who treasures the unseen, quiet works of a mother—who spoke through the pen of Paul, reminding each of us that our work is not for men, but for him.(Colossians 2:23)
Perhaps it isn’t so much that we forget this truth, but that we struggle to believe its worth. We struggle to believe that the unseen God’s pleasure is as desirous as a physical, here-and-now reward. Believing that the affirmation of the world is futile when compared to the pleasure of God is an act of faith in and of itself that must be brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit residing within us. We must daily the Lord to conform our hearts and passions to his—That we might seek not the applause of a perishing world, but rather the joyful smile of our loving Heavenly Father who takes notice of every act of kindness we bestow upon our husbands and children. In this is true fulfillment: communion with the Triune God. He sees and values our work, and that glorious truth is more than enough!
And so, the many trees of good works that fall in the forests of our homes may not be heard by the outside world, but they are heard by the only One who truly matters. And what’s more, we can be certain that the faithful service we render to our families will send seismic ripples into the world around us over time, because it is God himself who works in us, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13) These good deeds that we have set our hearts to are not of our own doing. They are only possible through the unity we have with the holy Son of God! “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)
If it is God who is cutting down these trees and throwing them to the ground, we can be certain that their impact will be heard for all of eternity.