I spend a lot of time reflecting on change. I know the dangers of living in the past, but I also know the value in occasional glances over your shoulder to remember the places you’ve been and the lessons you’ve learned. I think about growing up and moving forward. I think about life’s different seasons and how we’re constantly growing.
Looking back, I can pick out different seasons in my life that I consider my favorites. Senior year of high school, for example, is full of glowing memories and friendships I never want to forget. There are also seasons I’d rather not think about. Seasons where my heart ached so badly I could physically feel it. Seasons covered by shadows and uncertainties and questions. Seasons I can honestly say I learned many lessons from, but never want to relive.
When it comes to the physical seasons in our world, I have special times of the year I love. True, my favorite season is usually whichever one we’re approaching, because each season is beautiful in different ways.
Take Autumn, for example. By the time another scorching summer draws to a close, I’m ready for the next season. I’m ready for scarves and boots and spicy candles and pumpkin spice lattes. I’m ready for crisp mornings and apple cider and hayrides and bonfires.
Maybe most of all, I’m ready to watch my corner of the world change into mesmerizing colors: a clear, startlingly blue sky and brilliant leaves.
Ever since I became a college student and started commuting to school, I’ve become even more appreciative of the weeks during which summer surrenders to fall. As I drive down the highway during the first few weeks of a new fall semester, I carefully monitor the trees to catch the first glimpse of a promise that Autumn is on its way.
I love it when the leaves turn into fiery shades of red, orange, and gold. I love how the uniform greens that cover the branches turn to vibrant, unique shades you can only see this time of year. I love the fanfare of it all as creation shows off our Creator’s imagination.
But here’s something I rarely think of as I observe the leaves so beautiful I can almost hear them like a symphony:
The fanfare is really a swan song; a final show of splendor before the leaves turn brown and crinkly and fall, lifeless, to the ground. A final salute to their Creator before they transition from a thing of beauty to a pile of compost.
Before they die.
And then I think about the trees. They held so tightly to their beautiful leaves all year, only to release them from the grip of their bony fingers. Only to watch their best efforts fall to the ground. Those leaves are their identity. Sure, an arborist could tell you a tree’s identity based off the tree’s bark or shape or height. But for many of us, those leaves are what distinguish a maple from a magnolia, a pecan from an oak, a mulberry from a gingko. The trees are defined by their leaves, and yet, in the fall, they surrender their identities. Those beautiful leaves they’ve been growing for so long die.
And then what happens? The trees still stand, shivering in the cold wind, rattling their naked branches. Enduring a long winter.
Until Spring arrives. We all know what spring means, and we can probably all identify multiple metaphors concerning new life and rebirth and second chances.
As a Christian, I see myself in those trees. God has given me many gifts; gifts I cling to and don’t want to release. Gifts I’ve held for so long, they’ve become a part of me. Gifts I don’t want to surrender because it will be painful. Gifts I’ve made my identity.
How will they know me if I don’t make a name for myself? If I don’t use these gifts to make my mark on the world?
How can I leave a legacy when I don’t stand out from the crowd?
How will my life have meaning if I’m not doing something unique?
My gifts—my leaves—are mine. They’re special and they’re unique and they’re me.
How can I be myself if I give up something that’s a part of me?
Have you ever asked yourself those questions? Have you ever felt the breath of the Holy Spirit pass over you like a crisp breeze, asking you to surrender something you hold with clenched fists? Have you ever heard Him say, You are not your own, dear child. You belong to Me and I have a better plan for your life.
Have you ever fought and resisted and stubbornly clung to those things you’ve allowed to define you, only to hear Him whisper, Your identity is in Me. I will give you everything you need.
If we’re trees, then our leaves are the things we hold dear; the things we value. The things we use to define us. And if we truly seek to follow God, He asks us to give up those things to follow Him. He asks us to sacrifice the things that have defined us for so long. Those lush, beautiful, unique leaves.
He asks us to die.
He asks us to trust Him fully with our lives, believing He has a better plan and a better purpose for us. He asks us to loosen our grip on the things of this world and let them fall to the ground as an offering to Him.
But we dread dying. We fear what will become of us if we give up control; if we place ourselves at the mercy of such a big, big God.
If God is in charge of so many people, how could He possibly have a unique plan for me? we ask.
But consider this: What happens when those parts of the tree—those leaves—start dying? It’s only in death that the trees become all they can be. It’s only when they agree to surrender their gifts that their colors explode into brilliant shades. It’s only when they agree to let go of their lush, green foliage that the true beauty happens. It’s only then when others notice they’re living differently.
It’s only when the trees prepare to let their leaves fall to the ground that their gifts become the most unique and the most radiant.
It’s a beautiful death, really. The trees approach a time of barrenness and seemingly uselessness that takes place in the winter. But really, that’s when their Creator prepares them for Spring; that new beginning we talked about earlier. The time for the trees to truly show off their Maker’s handiwork.
But none of that can happen without the Fall. Without the surrendering of self. Rebirth and a purpose more beautiful than we can imagine can’t happen if we refuse to trust God with our lives.
If we can learn anything from the trees, it’s in their act of surrender. They give up their beauty, only to be prepared for an even greater beauty that can come only through their surrender.
And like the trees, we must surrender over and over again. It’s a practice in discipline, the act of giving our lives fully to our Creator. But it’s more than worth it when we place our hope in the truth that His loving plans are better than our own.
It’s a beautiful death, my fellow trees.
In His love,
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20 (NIV)