Lessons from an Autumn Tree

I love trees. It’s sad to me to live in a suburban house where there are only a few baby trees on the perimeter of the yard. I’m missing grand, stately trees with branches that stretch across the yard and provide ample shade, and with hundreds of leaves fluttering in the breeze. I dream of living in a place where old, magnificent trees grace my yard. I imagine children climbing the trees and resting in the shade. I envision getting to know the trees with the familiarity of an old faithful friend. Right now, it is summer, beautiful summer, and trees are in full bloom with leaves happily chattering about the warmth and joy of summer. And even though it is summer, and I’m basking in the bliss of gorgeous greenery, today I thought of an autumn tree.

The autumn tree is itself a glorious vision, with its rich colors and striking beauty. Indeed, we will travel for miles to enjoy the spectacular view of an autumn landscape. From a place deep within itself, the autumn tree bursts forth in glorious color, and shows off a different face of its beauty. For months it stays green, but then as the temperatures cool a bit, the colors change until they strike us with emanating, glowing hues. But we have to catch the show at the right time. The window is short. A week too late, and the leaves could be gone, fallen to the ground in a dusty heap.

I wonder…. Why do these leaves change color in a glorious display for only a short time, only to fall to the ground, dead? Why do the trees lose their magnificent crown, drop their jewels, just before the onslaught of bitter, brutal cold and death? Why then, just before winter?

It seems to me that the trees of summer are like a youthful tree– lush, lively, and bright green. Then the trees of autumn are like trees that are getting older, and through their changing colors, they show off their wisdom and knowledge, and the crowning acts of their lives. But then their glory dies all too soon, and their colors fade and their leaves drop dead to the ground.

Then the snow falls upon the bare tree.

In the wake of approaching bitter winter winds, ice, and blanketing snow, the tree  shows off its glory… and then lets go of its glimmering coat. It seems to me that the tree would want to keep its beautiful wrap of green, yellow, red or gold, and protect itself from the approaching season of cold. Why would it be in its greatest moments of glory just before winter? Why would it let go of its beautiful coat of protection just before the onslaught of brutal cold? Isn’t that when it needs its coat the most? Isn’t that when we’d like to see color the most, too– during the long season of winter where we only see white, gray and brown for months?

I could almost hear the tree speaking to me, in response to my questions: “I willingly give up my beauty, I give up my protective coat, and I accept the storm that is coming. I am ready to face the cold and lonely winter. I do this knowing what I’m doing. Did you notice that my glory shines brightest before I die, during autumn? I shine, then I give up a part of me that I treasure– my leaves– and only my skeleton remains for the long winter season. If you notice, you see my branches face up, to the sky, looking to my Creator, like hands in submission. The snows fall, but then in spring, I am born again with new life.”

Well, I couldn’t have said it better myself. It was quite a lesson from an inanimate autumn tree.

What did this mean for me? Why was I supposed to know this? Well, several reasons came shining through to me.

Lesson One: When you give back to God something you’re holding onto, there is a beauty to that letting to. When you die to yourself and put your faith in God, there is a beauty in that death. God’s glory will shine during that season. The autumn leaves that glow, and then die, exemplify the beauty of letting go.

Lesson Two: There are cycles and seasons in life. Remember that spring will come after winter, as trite as that sounds. The trees don’t die in the winter. They let go of their coat, and God protects them during that long harsh season. After some years, the trees grow into magnificent living statues. Surviving the winter is part of the process, and a part of the environment they must live with where they are planted.  During each season they bear fruit, the seeds fall and lie dormant in the ground, but the seeds don’t die in the winter, either.

Lesson Three: In the whirlwind of life (see  https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/2010/06/26/breakfast-a-meltdown-a-movie-and-a-do-over/) the tree is firmly planted. It may sway in the wind, but it won’t come out of the ground. It’s roots are firmly established. The peace, the place of rest, amidst seasons, the bitter winter, and the whirlwind of life, is found in God: “Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Psalm 116:7

As time goes on, and I live through more cycles of winter and thaw, cold and heat, calm and wind, I look forward to more lessons from an autumn tree.

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