The Spiritual Side of Stump Removal


Are you stumped? You have more options than you think you do.

Yesterday was Labor Day and I exerted my best to put the word ‘labor’ into the day. It was a national holiday, but no picnic in my backyard. After 19 years in the same home, we’re finally making some changes to the backyard. Thanks to the California drought, we’re swapping out half of our dog-destroyed back lawn for decomposed granite and patio stone work. On a small side slope next to my neighbor’s backyard, I’m moving my favorite plumeria trees by taking the larger ones out of terracotta pots and plunking them down on the slope.

But to make room for beauty, I first needed to get rid of a large, ugly tree stump. The thing had been lurking there for years in the corner, hidden by newly-removed bushes. Not causing anyone pain or harm. Yet. Submerged in the dirt, it was an arborist’s nightmare waiting to take out some-overconfident sop like me.

Suffering some grand illusion, I told myself I’d knock the thing out quick. Couple hours max. I grabbed a pick ax, a couple shovels and my chainsaw. I went after the stump like a lumberjack. Or should I say, rookie jumberjack?

Final score: Stump – 1, Rookie – 0.

After enduring far too many labor pains, I was completely spent. Dripping sweat, my back was sore and sun-burnt, torched by the hot sun. The dang stump had a root structure the size of the New York City subway system. I alternated between my shovel, hand shovel, pick ax and two smoking chainsaws. Ever swing a pick ax? 10 swings and my body was ready to go on strike.

Worse, the soil we have here along the Southern California coast is not soft, loamy soil. It is one-part dirt and three parts clay. To separate the roots from the soil, I played dentist picking the plaque off the roots. That stump was far more impacted than my son’s recently removed wisdom teeth.

And wielding a chainsaw isn’t much help when you’re up against hardwood. This stump was so different than the soft-wood avocado trees I’m used to taking down. A dull chain doesn’t help either. And so, I sharpened the chain. I picked. I dug. I sawed. I stopped and refilled my ice tea.

And then I quit.

After three hours, I had only removed twenty-five percent! That’s it. My body was toast. I waved my white flag and moved on to paint the back wall with my son. Paint… oh, I love the sound of that word… smooth, non-resistant, free-flowing paint!

I can already hear some of you hecklers, “Why didn’t you just rent a stump grinder?!”

And herein lies the conundrum of getting stumped when trying to remove said stump.

We keep picking at the problem. Attacking it from different angles.  Screaming at it. Working harder when our back is screaming instead of taking a break to get another glass of ice tea.  Or altogether ignoring the problem, wishing it away.

Whether you have a stump in your backyard or not, we all have stumps and we all get stumped.

What’s your stump? Your health? Your finances? A nagging struggle? Relational conflict? Worry? Fear? Doubt?

Last month, I received an email from a friend who was stumped about his job situation. His search for a new job was met with one disappointment after another as other less-qualified applicants cruised right by him. In the email he wrote to a select group of friends, he simply asked other guys for their ideas and feedback with how they dealt with similar seasons in their life.

He asked me if we could have coffee. I was so impressed by his humility and openness. Here was a guy asking for help, taking a vulnerable step to seek wisdom during a tough time!

In my friend’s weariness and discouragement, he sought the strength of others. By making himself weak, he opened himself to new-found strength in the day.

Stump removal is hard work. Stump removal requires it. Don’t go it alone. You have more options than you think you do.

I got myself into a whole lotta hardwood trouble trying to remove the stump on my own. This coming weekend, I think I’ll call a friend.

Entice him with a glass of ice tea or two.

Questions: When you’re stumped, how do you lose perspective? Can you tell a story when calling a friend made all the difference in the world?

I’d love your comments and questions.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, snarky or off-topic.

  • Rebecca

    The next time you need to get a root up, may I recommend a truck and a chain. My husband and I got many box woods up that way. We got tired of digging in VA dirt. It was a lot more fun to pull them up! 🙂

    • Joey O’Connor

      Thanks Rebecca…can I borrow your truck this coming weekend? I just took my chainsaws in to get serviced and need to pick them up!

      • Rebecca

        If we still had one and we could get it to you from St. Louis, sure!!! 🙂