A careful observer of nature can learn significant life lessons by looking to the ecosystem and growing habits of trees located in the Sacred Grove in upstate New York, said Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy who is church historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Church Educational System Devotional broadcast Sunday night was held in a church building near the Sacramento California LDS Temple and was transmitted in more than 40 different languages to young adults around the world.
"[The Sacred Grove] is picturesque country characterized by rolling, wooded hills, clear lakes and streams, and warm, colorful people," he said. "It is also a place made sacred by what happened there."
He was referring to the spring of 1820, when Joseph Smith went to the grove of trees to pray and was answered with a divine manifestation from God. Elder Jensen said that 200 years later, individuals can still feel that holiness.
Elder Jensen spoke of personal experiences he had as he visited the grove often while living in New York, and shared four lessons he learned from observing patterns found in the grove of trees.
First, trees always grow toward the light.
One interesting phenomenon observed in the Sacred Grove is the trees growing on the edge of the original forest and those lining the interior pathways, he said.
"They have grown outward — to escape the overshadowing foliage above them — and then upward to absorb the greatest possible sunlight," he said. "Their crooked trunks and branches stand in stark contrast to neighboring trees that grow almost perfectly straight."
Trees, like almost all living organisms, need light to survive and to thrive.
"Light is an even more important catalyst in the spiritual realm than it is in nature," he said.
Darkness is the opposite of light and represents the forces in the world that seek to separate individuals from God, frustrating His divine plan for every individual's life.
Second, trees require opposition.
Elder Jensen spoke of an experiment conducted a few years ago in a designated area of the Sacred Grove. To provide the healthiest young trees a prime place to grow, gardeners cleaned out the area and took away opposition that could prevent the trees from growing.
"As a result, none of the trees in the test plot compared in size or vitality to the trees left to grow more naturally and that had to overcome opposition in order to survive and to thrive," he said. "A world with opposites provides choices between good and evil, so that agency can operate. Equally important, however, is the principle that opposition must exist for spiritual growth to occur."
Third, trees are best grown in forests, not in isolation.
"If you think about it, in nature it's very unusual to see a tree standing alone," he said.
The Sacred Grove, Elder Jensen taught, is much more than just a group of trees. It is a complicated ecosystem that includes numerous species of flora and fauna that rely on one another for food and shelter in the cycle of life.
"Healthy trees need an ecosystem; healthy people need each other."
Fourth, trees draw strength from the nutrients created by previous generations of trees.
Just as a grove of trees flourishes when benefitting from the nutrients of fallen trees, leaves and limbs, so can the lives of church members benefit from the rich legacy left by those who have gone before them.
The church historian said it is impossible to live fully in the present — much less to plan for one's future destiny — without the foundation of the past.
"History in its most basic form is a record of people and their lives and from those lives come stories and lessons that can reinforce what we believe, what we stand for, and what we should do in the face of adversity," he said.