The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

A post for when it is fall and you’re turning 35 next week

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At the height of summer a garden is verdant and plush, explosive with life.  But as the produce of the field grows ripe, the branches become ungainly as they droop here and there to accommodate the weight of burgeoning fruit.  When the harvest has finished, gardens are left looking pillaged.  The things that remain are crumpled and faded.  In order to grow ripe and full, the fruit has depleted the plant of energy and sustenance leaving it appearing almost dead.

Not an overly subtle metaphor for how motherhood has felt for me. Yet the transition happened so much quicker than I thought it would.  Wasn’t I that ripening fruit just a moment ago?  When did I become the crumbling stalk?

Yet fall, not summer, is my absolute favorite season.  Summer is brash and oppressive in its own vibrancy. The heat lulls us to lie supine under the bright sun, losing count of one indulgent day after another.  As summer grows longer, life entwines amply around us, grapes draping like jewels in our grasp. Like a fabled Roman feast, at the end of summer season we find may ourselves sickened by our own glut.  Time and resources have been so plentiful that we’ve grow bored and complacent in our use of what we have in such abundance.

But perhaps what has been most dangerous of all, in this season of vitality we have believed the lie of our own self-sufficiency. We’ve forgotten that we are not actually the source of it all. The fruit we bear is not a product of us, the branches, it is an outpouring of the vine itself. We’ve simply been the extension through which the vine has produced.  But believing the lie that we had it all within ourselves, we perhaps continued reaching further and further beyond the true vine, growing spindly to make our own way.

But by the time Fall comes around, we are aware of our limitations as spindly branches bearing heavy fruit.  We cannot carry it any longer in our own strength.  We are conscious of the inevitable depletion of the things we’d thought belonged to us but never were ours to hold to ourselves.  That using them to do as we pleased has not actually pleased us.  And in the fall, we can wonder if it is too late.  Did we waste what we had?  Am I too far along and now without the capacity to replenish myself?

In the fall, everything is growing dimmer. The Fading begins to define it all; how we look outside and how we feel inside and what surrounds us.  And we realize that this. THIS. is life.  We started dying the day we were born.  And too soon all the life around us will become buried under that endless, white blanket. But for the first time, I’m wondering if I had it all wrong.  Death and letting go had seemed the worse that could happen, but now I’m not so sure.  Because I’d been there at “the prime,” and yet it didn’t feel as great as it was supposed to feel. Was I made for more than this or not?

Facing the truth about who I am in myself, dusty and broken, I’m realizing I can’t have it all and be it all and do it all.  Really, I don’t want “it all” anymore because it’s simply too much for me to handle.  What separates my life from my death is just a breath and all I have and can produce doesn’t mean much if I’m not connected to that which is beyond me.   To the thing that will still be there in the winter and in the spring and in the summer and next fall again.  To that which is above and beyond the seasons and holds it all together.  To the root.  The True Vine.

But if I can remain connected to that vine, there’s more life for me still. So can I begin to relish it? The cutting back and the clearing away?  A wise gardener will take out the things that are blackened or past their time, knowing that they could harbor diseases or pest eggs that could harm the plant in the long-run.  And the fruit of this season will fall but hopefully give life to something beyond me.  And I’ll start looking like that withered stalk.   There will be a time of stillness.  To the observant eye, it will appear that nothing is growing.  But under it all I hope I’m burrowing deeper,  finding richer sustenance.  I wonder if I can let go of my fear of  this season of dying because all it really means is that I’m starting to grab hold of the eternal instead.

What is precious about fall is that the reality that we are finite has precipitated a more fervent search for the infinite.  Fall is a time to remember that we are born first, perishable as the grass. But fall is also a time to rejoice that we can be born again to a glory unfading.

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,  but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.  1 Peter 1:23-25

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

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