I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.
-Jesus (John 15:1-2)
Fall is a nice time. As comedian Jim Gaffigan puts it, people just love watching the leaves and celebrating their last moments before they FALL TO THEIR DEATH. Now you’ll never be able think about the October woods the same way again! Don’t worry, it gets worse. The word “fall” sounds more passive than the reality is. When you look into the real world of nature, you find out that the leaves are actually "pushed off” the branches. It's even more brutal than you thought, Gaffigan!
Out here in the mid-atlantic, the cooler weather triggers a hormone in trees that tell each leaf that its time is up. Thick cells quickly form a bumpy line on the place where the stem of the leaf connects with the branch, and the leaf is literally pushed off the tree.
This happens for survival. Trees lose so much water during photosynthesis in the spring and summer that they are spent when winter rolls around. If trees want to survive until the next growing season, they’ve got to cut down on all excess during the intense months.
It’s not passive. It’s intentional. And, surprisingly, it’s breathtaking.
The tree makes a thousand little deaths in itself in order to survive for the long haul. And it does this every season. What can we learn?
I find it interesting that in the same season the trees are downsizing, our schedules are often picking up. Fall can get crazy. Having a full schedule in itself is not a bad thing. But not knowing when or how to push leaves off our branches so that we can keep our spirits alive? That’s a lost art, and it's essential if we want to delight in Jesus and thrive after harsh seasons.
Jesus speaks of the Father as a wise gardener who cuts off things in us that are unnecessary, and trims things that need more time before they are ready to grow. Cutting off excess is a spiritual tool for health.
Sometimes that means wasteful time, toxic habits and relational dynamics, and things that pull us from an awareness of God.
But sometimes our leaves aren’t negative. There is much good to do in the world. There is much that your job and your family requires of you. There are so many fun activities to participate in. Yet if we can’t identify things that need to be pared down, we will find ourselves anxious, distracted, and never ready for a season of personal growth. It’s going to take a few little deaths (and maybe some big ones).
Jesus talks about dying. He says that when we learn to die to our own egos, priorities, and need to impress, we can finally take hold of God’s heart. And that, like a dying seed, brings life many times larger than we can imagine.
It’s beautiful. Like the dying leaves.
Maybe the cooler breezes this week will encourage you to consider what God is desiring to trim in you. That’s between you and God. But rest assured that when we learn how to live with the simple focus of loving Jesus and the people around us, letting other details fall as they need, our lives become a breathtaking glimpse of God’s beauty.
Jesus, help me know what to release today.