Thursday, August 21, 2008


In the nineteenth century, Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote a short verse entitled "Maple Leaves":

October turned my maple's leaves to gold;
The most are gone now; here and there one lingers:
Soon these will slip from out the twigs' weak hold,
Like coins between a dying miser's fingers.

We can't take any of our possessions with us when our bodies finally give up the ghost. But even while we remain very much alive physically, we kill a bit of our spiritual effectiveness every time we balk at God's directing us to let go of something earthly. And that can happen to very mature Christians as well as to "baby believers."

One reason few of us are immune is that only occasionally does Jesus ask a new or potential convert to throw aside a vast accumulation of earthly attachments immediately and all at once. Occasionally, He does tell someone to "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor" (Mk. 10:21, NIV, emphasis added). But more often He guides us along the path to spiritual maturity like a coach training someone for a marathon with longer and longer runs. First, He directs us to give up the more obvious sins: sexual immorality, dishonesty, bitterness, taking advantage of others. Once we're in fairly good shape there, He shows us the little areas where we didn't really think we needed improvement: that old grudge we almost forgot but never let go of completely; that annoying person we don't particularly want to love; opportunities to serve where we were always too proud or too busy. Many a Christian's spiritual growth stalls right there.

If we keep on, we find ourselves being hit in the really deep, painful areas. Almost everyone who seriously wants to become the most effective Christian possible will sooner or later be called to "take a break" from some much-loved activity, harmless and wholesome in itself, and use that time to concentrate more fully on God. Our Lord's purpose there is not, as some people think, to forever keep us from the "sin" of having fun. Rather, He wants us to fully appreciate that He will tolerate no rivals for first place in our lives--that only by wholly cutting the emotional bonds that tell us there are still a few earthly things we can't live without, can we come to appreciate that God is all we need, and more than sufficient for our needs.

If we absolutely refuse to let go of the things we count on, He may forcibly remove them for our own good. Sometimes in nature, a few leaves hang on all winter and are only dislodged by new growth literally pushing them off. The human counterpart to that process can be extremely painful.

But when we see the beauty of fresh new leaves replacing dead brown ones, few can doubt that God knows best.

The leaves of our tree turned brown last fall,
And most fell free as the cold grew sharp,
To cover the earth in a blanket of brown,
And feed the soil till the spring's first spark.

A few of the leaves clung to their twigs;
Though dead and shriveled, they held their grip,
Mere pale reminders of the green days now past,
Pathetically rustling as months did slip.

Then came the bright warmth of spring's first rays,
And fresh new buds pushed out from beneath,
And the dead winter leaves dropped away at last,
Like baby teeth clearing for grown-up teeth.

We all cling tight to some things long dead,
Regrets of what can bring joy no more:
But when death is swallowed in our Lord's new life,
All old bonds are left outside Heaven's door.

No comments: