I think I am dying.
Not a typical way to start a blog, so let me qualify: as I’ve been reflecting lately and going over what God continues to speak to me in prayer (the need to wait and trust in the Lord, imagery of a refining/purifying fire, various lessons on how to love, the realization that the “mission” is first and foremost ME…), I’m realizing that one of the underlying messages is that I am really being asked to die—as in, dying to self, to pride, to knowledge, to being comfortable, to having any clear sense of purpose or direction. At the end of the day, after all that is gone, there are really only two things left: love and trust (ha—the two things I have the least of!). And only when I am stripped down to those two things can the real work begin.
Surprisingly, when I came to this conclusion today, I felt a lot of peace. Not what I expected. But I’ve been finding a lot of beauty in this realization that I am dying, along with a hopefulness in the expectancy that this is not the end. God really had a plan when He created this world we live in, and He leaves little hints all over the place that point to how death and life are all wrapped up together, and even depend on each other for true fullness to be brought about. The biggest sign that God has been calling my attention to lately is the changing of the seasons (both in nature and in the Church); He has been speaking a lot to me through the imagery of the process of growth that plants go through as the seasons change and pass.
If we were to imagine myself as a seed, you could say I was planted early on and tended all throughout my life; and last year I finally started to blossom and bear fruit (not to mention, a whole lot of weeds were pulled up along the way). It was beautiful—I felt beautiful—having a period of time that was all blooming. But (as God has ordained and nature has it), while flowers and fruit are beautiful and good, they eventually have to give way to the other stages in the cycle of growth. Now, I’m no botanist, but I’m pretty sure that when fruit finally comes, part of the natural process is that some of it falls on the ground, so that the seeds can be deposited back into the earth and new things can grow. But before anything new can grow, the fruit has to first ripen, which turns into rotting, which turns into disintegrating. It’s not pretty; it’s messy. It’s smelly. But it has to happen (I suppose, this seed could also be eaten by an animal and then come back out after a journey through the digestive system, or be thrown into a trash heap by humans only concerned with a tasty snack, but neither of those options are really either less messy or less smelly). The only way that the seeds can get in the ground and start growing is if everything is stripped away first. I feel like over the past few months, I could relate a lot to this ugly, messy, stripping-away process; God has been hard at work getting rid of everything excess and preparing me to be “planted.”
After this ugly mess, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of winter; everything becomes cold, hard, dormant. Even the tree that bore the fruit is dead (at least in appearance, if not in actuality). And thus passes a long—sometimes seemingly endless—period of what appears to be nothing: the old tree is not doing anything (no flowers, no fruit), and the new seeds have yet to grow. All you can see is a tree, stripped of all its leaves, standing rather starkly against the sky and horizon, and a frozen patch of ground around it. Depressing—although, admittedly, somewhat poignantly beautiful in its starkness, its…humility…its being there with nothing else to commend itself to your senses but itself, and itself alone. You can’t help but admire it—this bare outline is, after all, what makes the tree. Soon, though, even that beauty is jaded by the long, drawn-out COLD that just pervades everything; you start asking yourself the question, “when is it going to end?” and cursing that darned groundhog when he suddenly, arbitrarily decides upon 6 more weeks of winter.
BUT—oh, the glory of the promise in that one word—all the while, underneath the ground and deep within the core of that tree, small things have been happening, even while to the eye nothing is changed. The seed, when it first made its way into the earth, had to “die”—it had to break out of its shell, cease to be itself in a way, so that it could start the process of growing into something else, something more beautiful. The shell cracks, light and moisture and nutrients creep their way in; and slowly (VERY SLOWLY…) little roots start to push out, to explore, to extend out into the soil. And the more the roots grow, the more nutrients that little seedling needs—the roots are not very strong at first, they’re just fragile little things, brand-new and trying to make a go of it. That’s why no energy can be spent on growing up. Not yet.
But, eventually, it is time to start venturing up toward the top, up toward the light. At this point, the scenery outside is starting to change as well—it’s still cold and dark outside, but not as cold and not as dark. The snow has changed into rain, every now and then little glimmers of sun peep through the clouds, and you can start hearing the birds sing again. There is a thawing, a settling; almost as if the world were sinking into a warm bath after a long period of being sick and sad and tired, heaving a deep sigh and letting all the cold, all the dirt, all the sweat of hard work just melt away. The work is not nearly finished, but it’s a great start—like that one turning point in the darkness of the middle of the night when, oh-so-subtly, the seconds start creeping toward the light and the day instead of receding from it. Everything holds the promise of newness and life. It’s not here yet—we’re only just on the cusp of spring—but the promise of it is tangible and it’s delicious. There’s a waking up of all the senses, all the faculties: “Awake, lyre and harp! With praise, let us awake the dawn!” (Ps 57:9).
The world is full of promise—just keep watching the ground! Keep hoping! “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). There is a lot of work left to go—the journey up requires so much energy, pushing the way through the heaviness and darkness and wetness and dirtiness (something to consider: these are the very same things that were, at one point, needed for the seed to grow. The only thing that changes is the seed. It may seem like an immensely vast amount of difficult stuff to get through…but maybe none of it is actually working against the seed after all…it’s just time for a different stage in growth). And then there’s still the matter of those little roots—by no means finished growing. But it’s coming!!
And until it comes—until spring arrives, until those little shoots finally sprout out of the earth, until those tiny little blossoms bud on the tree—there is only waiting. But the waiting is taking on a different shade; there is no longer enduring, in the way that you trudge through the slush and sludge of winter and hope it’s over soon. Now there is an exhilarating, anticipatory holding-of-breath as we teeter on that cusp point, anxiously waiting for that rush of a moment when you wake up and spring has burst through in all its glory! This is the waiting for Easter morning.
Just keep growing. There is nothing else without that. Shade trees don’t happen overnight; there has to be growth. No cute little kids can pretend to be explorers and climb to the tippy-top without that first step. I cannot produce any fruit without first dying, and then growing out of that death. This step is hard, it’s unseen, un-glorified, un-noticed, un-remembered when the glory of the flowers and fruit come. But the flowers and fruit would not come without it, and that’s the most important part.
This is a big deal.
This is just the beginning. I am just now starting to understand my dying, looking forward in the hopefulness that it is starting to give way to a spring-time of new growth, that I am being prepared for a new fruitfulness.
And this one little seed is in it for the long haul.