Growing With The Pain Within Us

There once was a forest full of long-branched trees. There were baby trees, teen-aged trees, and big mama and papa trees. There were some grandfather trees and some grandmother trees, too. No two trees were alike. The wind and the sun and the soil helped shape each beautiful, unique tree. 

But there was something different about this forest. It was different from all the other places on earth. In this area, it never rained cats and dogs; it rained bicycles. 

As one might envision, some trees had a few bicycles in their tall branches, especially the larger trees. The smaller trees weren’t immune either. Some of the small trees had stunted growth and some of them had severed branches and limbs. On occasion the bikes falling from the sky would hit the bikes stuck in the trees and both would fall to the ground. More often than not, however, a tree would get stuck and remain in the branches for years. The branches and trees would grow through the bike frames and spokes of the wheels. Even the chains had buds and leaves trying to sprout into them.

Sometimes, a bicycle would splice into a thick branch or hit the ground and embed itself into a tree trunk. When the tree would grow, the bicycle would get stuck inside. The bicycles wouldn’t grow. No, they’d often stay the same or rust. But the trees would grow despite the new (or sometimes, old) two-wheeled furniture. 

The trees didn’t talk, but they had feelings. Sometimes those feelings were strong and, occasionally, virulent. They’d look at the other trees in the forest, the ones who didn’t have as many bicycles entangled about their limbs with envy. Some would loathe their own misfortunes and think that they must have done something wrong to deserve their broken limbs and horrific scars. But the bicycles just fell randomly. There was no particular reason. None of the trees were being punished by some external force or ethereal cosmic order. Nope, the galaxy simply had asteroid belts and space garbage full of used and unused bicycles. Their forest just happened to be in the right (or wrong) orbit and on the right (or less fortunate) planet where the bikes rained at random. None of the trees were bad. They hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve the bicycles falling from the sky.

The feelings often caused great emotional disturbance for the trees. 

Some trees, especially the ones that had bikes literally embedded in their trunks and thickest branches, felt the injury of the unnatural bicycles for years. It wasn’t like they could’ve done anything to change their circumstances, although they thought they could’ve. They couldn’t stretch or bend like the other trees or grow as tall as some of their neighbors. For that, they wallowed in self-loathing and, occasionally, in the self-pity of toxic comparison. They weren’t as flexible as the other trees. At least that’s what they thought. They were fragile—if not physically, they were emotionally fragile—and they were literally, internally injured. They were often harder on themselves than their forest mates were. 

Some trees accepted the situation for what it was. They realized they couldn’t do much about the falling bicycles and they couldn’t move from their locations to avoid getting hit. If they were able to shake their limbs and make a bike fall, great. If they weren’t, they accepted it and didn’t fret too much about it. Sure, it wasn’t ideal. Sure, it was hurtful when it rained metal, pedals, and tires, but they couldn’t stop it. They had no control over it, so they did what they could and tried to keep the negative, toxic feelings from further harming their lives.

These trees realized everyone was susceptible to injuries from the falling bicycles, so they didn’t judge any other tree. They realized they could’ve been the ones with a rusty bicycle sticking out of their trunk. They felt equally sorry for the trees that had severe wounds and those who had less severe wounds because they understood that the measurement of suffering wasn’t calculated correctly by most trees. These were the wisest trees with the most experience. 

The smaller, younger trees thought they could never reach such a stature as they giant trees. Some were mad at the older, large trees because they didn’t think the big trees could ever understand the pains they felt. But there was something the younger trees, and even some of the older trees didn’t know about the wisest, largest trees. 

Hidden inside the largest and most powerful trees, whose trunks were equal to great Redwoods, were bicycles, fully engulfed and completely inside the tree trunks. They intimately knew what the pains felt like! They just didn’t talk about it, or the younger trees didn’t ask about it, and no other tree could see the wounds on the old trees. In fact, within the tall branches, hidden behind the leaves were more rusted bicycles as well. 

Just because the other trees didn’t see the bicycles in the larger trees didn’t mean these larger and experienced trees didn’t have any wounds. In fact, the larger the trees grew, the more they covered the forest and protected the younger trees from being hit by bicycles. The largest trees didn’t let the bicycles ruin their lives. They grew stronger because of the pains and despite the difficulties. They didn’t reflect or focus upon their own misfortunes but instead helped encourage the younger, less experienced trees. In fact, within the tops of the canopies, their tall branches often slowed the speed of the falling bicycles so when or if they fell down upon the lower trees or upon the forest floor, they did so in a way that helped the more delicate and growing trees.

You can still grow big and strong, despite the broken branches or the handle bars that seem to be stopping the growth of your trunk. Just grow around the bicycle, they’d encourage. 

The late Elder Neal A. Maxwell once taught, “we have a duty to comfort others, to mourn with them, and to help them. When there is so much to do to help others, there is little time for self-pity.” 

He continued, “We do not know all the details of the crosses others bear, but we know enough to understand that crosses are being borne valiantly. Moreover, the courage of others can be contagious. 

“During our mortal schooling in submissiveness we will see the visible crosses that some carry, but other crosses will go unseen and unappreciated. A few individuals may appear to have no trials at all—which, if it were so, would be a trial in itself.” 

And then, in unique, eloquent metaphoric fashion so characteristic of Elder Maxwell, he opined, “If, as do trees, our souls had rings to measure the years of greatest personal growth, the wide rings would likely reflect the years of greatest moisture—but from tears, not rainfall.”[1] 

Writing of the trees reminds me of what the well-known Church historian B.H. Roberts once wrote. Said he,

“Unquestionably every experience is of value to an individual or an organization. Some experiences may be sad, and accounted at times as disastrous; but are they really so? The rough wind which shakes it helps the young and slow-growing oak; for by reason of this very shaking the tree takes firmer hold of the earth; wider spread the roots; deeper down into the soil are they thrust, until the sapling, once so easily shaken, becomes a monarch in the forest, mocks the howling tempest, until its height and frame become worthy of the land and atmosphere in which it grows a giant tree… Profitable if not sweet are the uses of adversity.”[2] 

B.H. Roberts borrowed the last line from William Shakespeare, who wrote: 

“Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”[3]

Image: Unknown photographer

[1] Neal A. Maxwell. “Living in a Community of Saints,” Chapter 9 of If Thou Endure It Well, Bookcraft, 1996. Reprinted with permission on

[2] B.H. Roberts, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, part 1, vol 2, Brigham Henry Roberts, Intro. Calamitous events, comp. Joseph F. Smith, (Deseret News, SLC, UT, 1904) XXXII.

[3] Shakespeare, “As You Like It” Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 12-17.

Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey has written award-winning articles for the Washington Times,, and other publications. He is the author of seven books, including Warrior SOS: Military Veterans’ Stories of Faith, Emotional Survival and Living with PTSD. He teaches courses on peer support, suicide prevention, and other mental wellness and resilience to public safety professionals. If you would like Jeff to speak at your event or training please contact him HERE.

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