During a few blustery, rainy days here in New England, I watched the autumn leaves fall like snow. (Reminding us of what’s to come!) My imagination conjured the sad image of these trees desperately clinging to their many-colored coats as they struggled to hold on against the unrelenting wind. A few days later, after reading a scientific article, I was surprised to learn what’s really going on.
In autumn, trees “decide” to let go of their leaves.
In the warm and fruitful days of spring and summer, leaves use sunlight and water to make food for the tree. With the coming of winter, these leaves become inefficient and unable to produce food. In order to survive the harsh winter and allow for new growth in the spring, a decidous tree must shed its leaves and seal off the spots where they were growing.
This is done through a process called abscission. When the Northern days grow shorter and colder, trees release a hormone that causes tiny cells to grow at the spot where the leaf stem meets the branch. These are called “abscission” cells. (Think “scissors.”) These cells form a line that weakens the leaf stem and allows the wind to do the rest.
A very different metaphor then what I originally imagined. A story of struggle and loss gives way to one of empowerment and growth. Instead of holding on in vain, the trees are actively participating in a process of letting go. What a powerful example of how we might choose to live! Think of the autumn leaves as habits, behaviors, or ways of thinking that are not life-giving or sustaining. By letting go of them, we—like the trees—allow for protection, preparation, and new growth.
And so I ask…is there something you need to let go of?
What are you holding onto that prevents you from growing? Perhaps it’s an old hurt that has festered in you. Or wounding messages from the past that shape the way you view yourself. Maybe it’s a toxic relationship that is tearing you down instead of building you up.
Just like the autumn trees, you can DECIDE to let go of the resentment, bitterness, self-judgment, or critical thinking.
Or maybe instead of holding on…you’ve been holding back. What are you clinging to that might block you from moving forward? Fear? Doubt? The desire to stay with what’s safe? Maybe it’s time to LET GO of that fear and try something new. Imagine yourself as Elsa from the Disney movie “Frozen” (Perhaps you’ve heard of her?) throwing your arms wide and singing: “Let it Go! Let it Go! Can’t hold it back anymore!” How perfect for our autumn story that it’s a Snow Queen—the embodiment of winter—who boldly initiates this process of change and letting go.
Does the idea of letting go scare you? That’s ok. Change is always scary. These views, habits, or hurts have been a part of us for so long, that releasing them can almost feel like a small death. We’re afraid we might not recognize ourselves anymore. But remember, the process is part of a necessary cycle. Just as the trees are preparing for the long, cold winter, sometimes in order to protect ourselves, we need to let go. To release. To unclench our fists and allow the cycle of dying and rising. This will make way for something new. Surprises, wonder, and awe.
If you’re still scared, the good news is that you’re not in this alone. Not even close! Remember…leaf-shedding is a two-part process. The tree does its part, and the WIND comes along to do the rest. Think of that wind as the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. Allow yourself—through God’s grace—to embrace abundance and joy. If there’s something in your life that needs shedding, imagine God whispering to you: “Let go… let go.” Make the decision to release it, and allow God to carry it away with the wind.
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
One thing we know from watching the endless turn of the seasons…winter may be long and brutal, but springtime ALWAYS comes. A resurrection bringing new life and new growth. The practice of letting go is a cycle we can participate in over and over again throughout our lives. If at first we don’t succeed, we can always try again. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:
I don’t mean to say that I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. (Philippians 3:12-13)
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
Have you become entrenched in ways of thinking that are not life-giving or sustaining? Or are you “stuck” in unhealthy ways of relating to others? How might God’s love enable you to LET GO, so that you might be filled with new energy and life? I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comment section below!