During my return drive home from taking the kids to school this morning, I saw leaves; dried up, crunchy, brown and ugly leaves. They were everywhere! All over the ground, blowing in the street, creating mountains of crunch on everyone’s yard.
Leaves: They seem to be taking over everything in my view. Cluttering it up…getting in the way of seeing green. They bother me.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. John 15: 1
I was praying over the day to come – another day at work. Another day of stalled weight loss, which is crucial (twenty more pounds, and they are STUBBORN) to my health improvement. My two kids and the struggles they are having in Math class, and with teenage hormones, but who both love God and are trying to figure out how to let Him reign in their day-to-day. My eldest beauty ~ the one who has been an adult all her life, but is loving her Jesus and trying to wrap her mind around the fact that “balance” is elusive. And my husband ~ learning to love Him the way Jesus would have it is a daily learning process. My husband: His work, His heart, His patience with me. And the many, MANY folks whose hearts are hurting…who have entrusted me to pray specifically for them….for them to know Jesus and be wrapped in His peace and comfort.
During this prayer, I did not have my eyes closed (gotta drive, yo), and so I kept on seeing the leaves.
Then, in a flash of a second, He put it there: The Spirit of the Lord reminded me. He reminded me through the leaves.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:2
Our lives here on earth and the walk we take with Jesus are much like the leaves. We treat them as such too. But we have to remember ~ we must look at the leaves through Jesus’ eyes. We tend to see only the outside. We look for that which is obviously beautiful, or we tend to see just the crunch and the brown ugly once they have fallen off the tree. And we don’t want to have to do the work involved when it comes to the leaves. We just like to sit back and enjoy them.
But that is part of embracing Ugly Love. The brown crunchy stuff that seems useless is a major symbol of God’s TRUE love for us! It’s part of what He does to make room for the really good stuff He has for us.
The whole cycle needs to be seen for the beauty that it is! Every stage is part of what the Lord is working within us.
And we must remember:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. John 15:3
So our trees in the Spring, as they bud, excite us. They almost relieve us. Because we feel we have looked at barren sticks for so long that we are ready for some action! We are ready for growth. Ready for flowering. Ready for the warm sun and the cool breeze to ripple through all that is new and fresh and make beautiful sounds. We’re ready. We’re ready for the smells, the sights, and for our senses to be tantalized through the beauty and the newness of it all.
Of course that would be exciting for us. We are creatures filled with senses that beg to be satisfied and utilized.
Did we abide in Him during the harsh winter time? Did we still nurture and care for our barren-seeming tree? It’s still alive, I hope.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:4
But then, deep in the middle of the Summer, although the trees are still in full bloom, we tend to get kind of used to them. We can become complacent about that new and beautiful blooming growth we saw as it was first popping and coming into fullness in the Spring. We take it for granted. Aside from that, some of the leaves are getting ugly-fied by the heat surrounding them. It’s too hot. It’s no longer “perfect” weather to sit back and enjoy the newness of it all. Lots of the flowery parts have turned just all green.
Too much uniformity. Too much “sameness”.
Are we neglecting to water the tree because it seems fine just all by itself?
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
We are fickle and we tend to get bored even when the fullness of growth comes in ~ we lack appreciation. We forget what this stage stands for in the face of all the new things God has done in us. We forget or refuse to abide in Him.
In the Fall, everyone gets excited about change. We got tired in the Summer of all the same sea of green and seeing new colors excites us. Hopefully, we aren’t simply happy because of the change and the fact that it breaks up the monotony, although I fear that is often the case for us. But if we begin to appreciate the beauty in the ugly of love, growth in Jesus, and changing to become more like Him, we can appreciate this season all the more. The turning of the leaves into beautiful colors can be a clear sign that all that we prayed over – all the good work that we asked Him to do in us – it’s coming about. He is helping us to discard that which is no longer meant to be part of the vine.
He paints beauty in the midst of the ugly on last time before discarding it. That which needs to go, shall go. Hopefully, we don’t lose any branches!
If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. John 15:6
And then: It’s dump time. It’s time for the last vestige of beauty to be surrendered. Does our Savior not know us? He knows we need a small transition in order to let go sometimes. But some leaves are tossed right off the vine immediately. Others, he allows to change in the Autumn and let us look at them a while before they turn brown and fall down. It’s about letting go – all the way. Dump time. Time to get rid of everything that doesn’t belong.
This stage is painful. It doesn’t appear to be beautiful, but it truly is! Because we are left with a clean slate, we get to experience the grace and mercy of Jesus in a very special way. We are left with a living tree that is stripped of all that wasn’t meant to remain and a beautiful clean canvas upon which the Lord can work His divine wonders!
This is the place where ugly really shows. This is the place where we feel overwhelmed because we no longer have use for the brown crunch that surrounds us. We are ready to discard. We are ready to clean up. Every last leaf is bothering us. We can’t seem to catch them all. They need to disappear forever.
Have we come to the Father and cried out for help in the mess and the aftermath of our sin or unwanted and unfruitful baggage we have been carrying around?
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7
After pondering this, I realized: I am a hater of the brown crunch. I love the buds and the changing colors of Spring and Autumn. I have learned to embrace new growth, just as I look forward to the beauty to be found in getting ready to let go of that which doesn’t belong. Yet I haven’t fully embraced dump time.
I struggle with seeing the mess of me all over the ground.
Just like the next guy, if there’s stuff that needs to be purged, I am all for it. Get it outta there! But I hate clean up time. It’s tedious and never-ending. It never seems to be efficient. It’s ugly to look at – all that junk on the ground. It’s not nice and neat and perfect and doesn’t fit in my little box. The tree looks great – the bare sticks reaching up to the heavens ~ ready for their new blooms after a season of rest. But the ground? It’s a hot mess!
But this sea of brown and ugly is living proof that our God saves! And we will bear good, better and beautiful, luscious fruit again!
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:8
Rakes don’t work all that well – not for the little pieces, anyway. You know…the ones that break into a million more little pieces when you try to rake them away?
Picking them up by hand and placing them in a trash bag is good, but you might break your back after a while. That hurts.
Mowing them up can be a good thing, but you’ll have to make several endeavors at this before they are all gone.
I say let Jesus be our leaf blower. Let Him clean up the crunch in our lives. Let Him take the trash out with us. We have to partner with Him. Doing it on our own is not productive and not even necessary. We have to be willing to take steps to turn the power on and get out there and face the mounds of brown ugly. We have to invite Him to help us. But it’s worth it. It’s part of the process of embracing the really ugly stuff we no longer need and then discarding it – forever. Only He can help us truly do it the right way.
There’s beauty in every cycle – but some of it is not meant to remain. Some of it is the process of getting rid of it. Some of it looks very, very ugly and is a real pain in the rear. But it’s there.
And so is He, dear friends. So is HE!
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15: 9-11