Autumn is upon us. The trees have announced her imminent arrival, painting the hillsides with a vibrant array of colors. Green succumbs to yellow, orange, red. Bright, flaming, vivid. I love the fall for its colors, its artistry. Stepping outside always makes me pause… and breathe. The wonder of God at work with a paintbrush brings a smile to my face and my soul.
But the colors do not stay forever. I take time to notice their beauty every time I pass because I know about the inevitable… about the falling. At the peak of its beauty, each individual leaf absorbs its last ray of sunlight, breathes its last and falls to the ground. The longer fall progresses, the less leaves array the skies and the more litter the ground. The masterpiece of artistry slowly sinks lower and lower toward the ground where it dissolves, scattered here and there by my feet as I walk to class. I feel the crunch beneath my feet and I know that something is passing.
Fall is a reminder of time, a signal that every thing must come to an end. When the chilling wind blows the last resilient leaf off of the trees, winter will arrive. I comfort myself with the fact that fall will always come again… after winter, spring and summer have had their turn. Every season carries its own gifts, its own lessons, and God directs them to come in their own perfect timing.
Yet as I watch the leaves fall, something within is stirred with urgency. Someday the inevitable will come. A fall will usher in a winter that will birth no earthly spring. Time will reach its fullness. This fall is passing. And while there may be many more to come, this one will never come again. Days are passing, days I am only allowed to live once. The question haunts: are they being lived well?
I have a to do list. It fills up quickly every week, and the tasks never fail to be harder to cross off than to write down. Such is the way of life. The seasons all bring their tasks to fulfill. But how many of them are necessary? I glance to the wall over my bed, where my priorities hang as visual reminders of purpose. How much of my to-do list agrees with my priorities? How much of it is extraneous? Last month I listened to a wise man speak about the reality of to-do lists. He said we all have them. But how many of us have stop-doing lists? How many of us take the time to eliminate the good things in our lives that are hindering the accomplishment of the great?
Time. It constrains our lives. It forces us to choose. We cannot do everything, so we must choose our something. First we must draw the line between good and bad. But harder still we must learn to draw the fine line between good and great. To live life with God’s best requires saying no to the mediocre. It requires healthy boundaries. It demands shedding the extraneous.
I look to the trees. They have learned this lesson well. My heart is relieved as I watch them release, shedding everything of the old to prepare for the new. They know that their branches do not have room for both the leaves of last year and the leaves of coming spring. Seasons change. Before accepting the gifts of the new, the baggage of the old must be allowed to fall. The leaves do not resent this reality. I can hear them sigh with content as they gracefully dance across the sky in one last relish of life. They have fulfilled their purpose. God painted within their frame a work of beauty. They displayed it for all their worth and now their time is done.
As the weight of finals and deadlines approach, trying to cramp my days' to-do lists, I appreciate the presence of autumn, the lessons she brings to my heart. Even within the busiest days I force myself to stop and remember to breath and to shed. I want to live my life prepared for the spring. The fall is necessary to pry any remnants of the old out of my hands. May I not be mourning over piles of dried-up brown leaves when the buds of spring make their entrance, because in the words of C.S. Lewis, “there are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
May I learn to live with an expectancy of the spring and an appreciation for the fall. I want to learn to stop doing and to choose well. Time is passing. But if we learn to live our lives in the midst of the best God has provided, then there is no reason to be regretful. We can simply enjoy the beauty of the season no matter which one we are in.