It often strikes me as funny that I don't consider myself an outdoorsy person, yet I feel very energized and renewed whenever I spend time in nature. I often begin and end the day without ever even leaving the confines of my house, and I usually don't realize it until bedtime.
My husband is the opposite, so it's a topic rife with teasing. I tell him all my favorite pastimes or hobbies (or responsibilities) are ones that involve staying indoors. I'm sure if I had something to DO outside, I'd probably spend more time out there.
However, when Autumn hits and leaves cover the ground, I feel the itch to get out to our orchard and rake luscious piles for my kiddos and their neighbor-cousins to jump in.
As each year draws to a close, I reflect on what I have learned over the past dozen months. The physical activity of raking allows my mind to dwell on theories and principles, often highlighting areas of my spiritual walk that have evolved. As I worked this past Friday, I felt the Spirit whispering Truths to me, and I paused to jot them down. I felt led to share those ideas here, but even if no one reads this post, I know I must obey God's prompting to put it out into the world.
LESSONS FROM THE LEAVES
1. Sometime shortcuts leave you with the same end result, but without the benefit of the soul-stretching experience. I realize a leaf blower would be much faster than a rake. But faster isn't always better. I much prefer the sweat and laboring that goes into the end result...the hard work is just as rewarding as the finished product.
“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.” Matthew 7:13-14 MSG
2. When you initiate change, others may come alongside you to help shoulder the work, but even if they don’t, God has still called you to see it through to completion. The 'work' might be personal growth, healthier living, a new business, a big idea God has given you, or the desire to beat an addiction. Determining to change inspires others, but ultimately the end result is up to you, as you are the one God has chosen for that specific task.
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” Galatians 6:2-5 NLT
3. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done and end up abandoning the tools we know work because we are too discouraged to persist. I know from experience how troubling it can be to pursue a goal and feel like you are just spinning your wheels. Sometimes results are hard to see. Maybe we've plateaued or our movement is more like baby steps than leaps. Take comfort in realizing that baby steps are still steps forward and slow progress is still progress.
“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” Romans 5:3-5 MSG
“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9 NLT
4. You don't know what you will uncover until you begin scraping back the layers. Under the cover of leaves, rest dormant seeds that will eventually lead to new life. There are also dead bits that are crushed, buried, and return to the earth, which helps facilitate a healthy environment for new life. From death comes a new beginning, a rebirth. In our lives, it can be frightening to dig below the surface and confront what is there. Sometimes we find a dream that was once flourishing has now run its course and is no longer serving a purpose. Letting go of what is no longer fruitful is the only way for us to move forward, to start fresh.
“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” John 12:24-25 MSG
“Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.” 1 Corinthians 15:43-44 NLT
5. Even if the work is going well there will still be aches and pains along the way. That is a sign you’re digging deep and not just staying at surface level. The blisters on my hands from the rake, the sore muscles in my back, the dust and dirt in my hair: all physical signs of hard work taking place. Striving to deepen our spiritual lives can have similar 'growing pains' as we discipline ourselves to read the Word, pray, forgive, bless others, guard our hearts and tongues, and nurture the saplings in our souls that lead to the development of the Fruits of the Spirit.
“It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God. From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus.” Galatians 6:15-17 NLT
6. Sometimes the wind dies down, and sometimes it merely changes directions. As it turns out, I picked one of the windiest days of Autumn to rake ((sometimes my stubbornness outweighs my intelligence)). I was able to use the wind mostly to my advantage, raking in the direction it was already blowing. In life, we'll have circumstances where the winds of change are blowing the direction we're going and our growth feels effortless. We'll also have opportunities to prove our strength and perseverance by working against resistance, whether that's the critical opinions of others, a lack of funding or experience, or even our own self-doubt. A wise friend once told me that God best directs a moving ship, and that adage has always inspired me to do what I could do and trust the outcome to God.
“Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt. GOD let loose an east wind. It blew that day and night. By morning the east wind had brought in the locusts. The locusts covered the country of Egypt, settling over every square inch of Egypt; the place was thick with locusts. There never was an invasion of locusts like it in the past, and never will be again. The ground was completely covered, black with locusts. They ate everything, every blade of grass, every piece of fruit, anything that the hail didn’t get. Nothing left but bare trees and bare fields—not a sign of green in the whole land of Egypt.
Pharaoh had Moses and Aaron back in no time. He said, “I’ve sinned against your GOD and against you. Overlook my sin one more time. Pray to your GOD to get me out of this—get death out of here!”
Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to GOD. GOD reversed the wind—a powerful west wind took the locusts and dumped them into the Red Sea. There wasn’t a single locust left in the whole country of Egypt.” Exodus 10:13-19 MSG
7. Don’t expect that the work you did will not require maintenance. Lasting change almost always requires ongoing effort. Spiritual growth is a lifelong process. It's not something you begin with an end goal within reach, but rather something you strive for with an eternal purpose. We humans will never be complete this side of Heaven, no matter how Christ-like we are able to become. The process holds the reward.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” 2 Timothy 4:7 NLT
8. Many will marvel at the end result without being able to grasp the hard work that got you there. As I raked, my kids played outside with my niece and nephew. Being kids, they weren't naturally inclined to offer to toil alongside me. But when those leaves were raked into a towering, glorious pile? You can bet they were all begging for a chance to be part of what I was doing. They saw the fruits of my labor and declared the result worth the effort...without having actually put in any effort of their own (except little B, [pictured above]; she wants to help with anything that seems 'grown up').
It's easy to fall into the trap of noticing a more mature believer's peace, patience, wisdom, and just assume it's their natural bent. We often fail to appreciate the hours they have spent searching their hearts, calling out to God, praying for His will, repenting, asking for forgiveness, consciously striving towards growth and change. All we see is the 'now', not the relentless on-going process it took for them to get where they are. The beauty of growth is that it's available to each and every one of us. There's not a limited amount. It's not an exclusive offer. God is a God of abundance and He never runs out of good gifts to pour out on those who love Him.
“But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:10 NLT
Whether you feel closest to God while you're outside in nature or sitting in a coffee shop, I'm praying for you as you seek spiritual growth. I trust He will speak to your soul any time you quiet your mind long enough to listen. God already knows His plans for you, and they are GOOD, and He will reveal them to you in due time. Rest in that truth.