I’m a hanger-on. I hang onto things…memories, old receipts, friendships, bad song lyrics. There’s good and bad in hanging on.
“The stripped and shapely maple grieves
the ghosts of her departed leaves”
John Updike’s poem, “November,” in A Child’s Calendar, chimes to me the beginning of the holiday season: the over-eating of Thanksgiving, the frenzy of Advent, the bone-deep joy of Christmas, and the excitement of Epiphany all begin after this reminder that all gain is loss. All loss is gain. And we are the better for it.
This fall has been a lovely one in our lower Arkansas Valley of Colorado. Ours is never the glamour autumn of New England, but this year the river bottom turned flaming yellow, the backyard trees orange and lighter brown, and the leaves crunched under my feet on my slow morning jogs in City Park.
Some years, the snow and ice come too soon to the valley. The poor trees don’t get a chance to let go, and the leaves freeze on the branches. It makes for a dull autumn, and the trees struggle to leaf again in the spring.
The trees have to lose their leaves if they want to grow. That’s basic botany. It’s basic humanity too. We need to let go of whatever weighs us down if we’re going to grow. Sometimes, we have to stop hanging on.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” writers the author of Hebrews, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1).
Every weight, every sin…lay it aside. Literally, cast it off. Throw it away. Let it go. And then run the race, run to Jesus, the Savior who authored and perfected our faith.
It sounds simple enough, right? Surrounded by the cloud of witnesses to inspire us, we just let go and run to Jesus. But it’s not always that easy. The difference between us and the trees is that we have a choice. Blame human agency. Blame our sin nature. Blame social media, our parents, or the annoying neighbor with the seemingly perfect life–whatever it is that keeps us holding onto the dead things in our lives. Boy, do the knuckles get white as we hold on.
On this day, writing here beside a window looking out on an almost bare tree, there is a particular expectation–too private to share here–that I’m struggling to release. It is an expectation of myself, an expectation of identity and vocation, and I am acknowledging slowly the hard truth that it will not be realized. To hold onto it will only bring me heartache. It will keep me from growing in the months and years ahead.
I’m remembering a wonderful line from Eugene Peterson about winter’s empty branches as a “deciduous reminder to let it go” (here). I’m looking out my window again. The leaves on this tree are always so so lovely, but they don’t last. They can’t. My expectation was a lovely one, but it didn’t last.
I have to let go. The tree will be my inspiration.