Fall is my absolute favorite season of the year. There are things I enjoy about each of the seasons, but for my money, fall can’t be beat. The weather is far more conducive to me enjoying time outside, and the fact that it is less muggy and buggy is a bonus.
I’ve been lucky to live in some places with gloriously gorgeous fall leaves. Kenyon’s Middle Path during fall is breathtaking. The season in Western Massachusetts equally so, drawing “leaf-peepers” from near and far. It’s not too shabby here in the Valley, either!
Nearly everything about this season invigorates me. The importance of harvest and preparation before winter demands more energy, so perhaps there are some deep agrarian impulses at work here. Fall is also back to school, back to busier routines and more activities. It seems like every season, in its own way, brings “more.”
The trees offer a good reminder, though. They show us the beauty of letting go. During the growing season, deciduous trees continually replenish their chlorophyll, which is used to convert energy from the sun into food for the tree. How amazing! This chlorophyll also causes green pigmentation, so much so that green dominates the colors of leaves throughout the spring and summer. With decreasing chlorophyll, the other true pigments within the leaves begin to take over. In other words, the activity that is necessary for growth can mask some of the most brilliant beauty of the tree itself.
We live in a very growth-oriented society. So often when a new CEO, Executive Director, or in the church world, a Pastor/Head of Staff is hired, the introduction to the public includes the many ways that person has produced or overseen growth in their recent places of employment. Sales of thing-a-majigs skyrocketed by 45% under her leadership! The Good Deeds Organization increased their capacity for community outreach threefold while they were leading that campaign. During his time as pastor, the membership and budget of First Presbyterian grew 20% each year. Growth is good, and necessary for life as we know it, but when do we give ourselves permission to lessen our production of chlorophyll?
While the global pandemic might have forced some into a less productive season, for many of us, the growth work had to ramp up even higher, just to keep up. I saw a graphic that claimed that the 2020-21 school year for a seventh grader was more like 4th grade, sixth grade more like 3rd, and so on, so that second grade, first grade, and kindergarten were basically non-existent. I’m not sure where the data is behind that chart, but for so many of us parents, it felt incredibly true. And that’s with teachers and administrators working harder than they ever have to keep educating in the midst of impossible conditions.
There are plenty of articles and studies that document all of this effort and fatigue. We’ve been in crisis mode - think super-high chlorophyll production - for more than a year and a half. That’s not sustainable. We’ve run a marathon only to be pointed to the next starting line for another.
Here in the church, we’ve pivoted many times, and I’ve been amazed to see how God has continued to work in and through the ministries of this congregation. Last week we had calling Sunday, and we’ve had even more groups called this year! Growth!
I’m not saying we should just stop everything, though in the midst of so much activity, the importance of real, regular Sabbath rest is heightened. I’m encouraging us to embrace the season. Just because trees slow their production of chlorophyll doesn’t mean they stop their work. Rather, the work shifts. Trees are preparing for the winter ahead, during which their fallen leaves and barren trunks and branches will help sustain life in other ways.
I’m suggesting - and preaching strongly to myself here - that we either expand our understanding of productivity, or shift our focus from it. We are still in the throes of a global pandemic, and whenever we emerge, or shift into different seasons of it, we will need time to recover.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made, but there are parts of us that aren’t able to shine through because we are so busy, or so focused on production. If we let go of chlorophyll production, what new beauty might we witness? You’ve likely heard the slogan, “Let go and let God.” Sometimes our reluctance to let go of things can rob us from the opportunity of witnessing God at work. We forget that God created us as complex beings, needing different seasons of life for our own health and wellbeing.
What can you let go? We can start with expectations - of ourselves and others. How can we show ourselves and others more grace? Maybe we can let go of habits that aren’t helpful or even healthy. How do those dull our pigmentation? Can we let go of doing and being productive for a whole day each week? If not, how about a few minutes every hour? Or even a small block of time each day? Maybe we need to let go of resentments or grievances. Maybe we need to let go of negative self-talk.
The autumn trees show us how beautiful it can be when we are able to let go. May we be inspired by their beauty, and by the Creator who made those trees and each of us. Happy fall!
Grace and peace,