When I was young I always looked forward to autumn. For me, autumn was a time when the cycle of life began all over again. I know many people like to think of spring as the season of beginnings, but in my mind, it was always autumn. Maybe it was because in the autumn the leaves began to turn all sorts of brilliant colors and fall from the trees, signaling that a change was in the air. Or maybe it was because it was the start of another school year, and another chance to start over making friends and finding my place in my world. But I think the most likely reason of all was that autumn was a bittersweet reminder that death is the beginning of birth; that sorrow gives way to serenity, and that for the believer, the grave yields ultimately to new life. Growing up Catholic, I came to see autumn as a picture of what it meant to move forward on my journey from Baptism to Heaven, traveling the path of surrender and rebirth where I discovered what it meant to trust in the Savior who was carrying me through it all.
Autumn had always meant saying good-bye: good-bye to the long hot days of summer, good-bye to another year of life, and good-bye to things that might have been. The sweet sadness of autumn seemed sacred to me. It held me in a cold and lonely embrace, calling me to release the past and let it drift away like a fallen leaf on the wind. It pointed to the cold and darker days of winter that lay ahead and my own spiritual deaths that I contemplated beside a cozy fire in a warm home. In some mysterious way it meant safety, even though it meant change. I spent each sad autumn quietly waiting, quietly anticipating the chilling sleep of winter and the newness of spring days to come.
The Surrender of the Seed
Jesus said in John 12:24 “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” As I look back on the autumns of my life, I see that each small death I experienced was really a part of the ongoing mystery of growing in my relationship with my Savior. Each encounter with Christ was a surrender to the childish ways to which I clung so closely but from which I was constantly moving away. In these trials Christ was helping me to face the deeper deaths to self that took place in the intimacy of His entering more deeply into my life. With every submission, more of my selfish nature was yielding to the greater knowledge of what it meant to live as a temporary traveler on this earth. It taught me to surrender to God’s will and remove myself from the throne as I connected in greater ways to what living as a child of God was all about.
The Soil of Struggles, the Transformation of the Seed
The many deaths we experience over the course of our days on this earth enable us to bear the sorrow and the loss of growing away from this life toward heaven. They allow grace to open our hearts to the peace that passes understanding as we yield to the Spirit’s work in our hearts. You see, God has a plan for each of us: to plant us in the world of sorrow and sin and allow the pressure and pain of human living to crack open the shell of who we are so that the new birth of our faith can manifest itself in our lives. Once we are broken in the soil of our struggles, we are able to reach upward toward the light of His grace and extend our souls to receive the warmth of His loving will with joy. As I look at all The Divine Gardener has brought forth in me through this incredible faith journey, I see the seeds of new life and hope being produced, ready to be planted in the fertile soil of other souls longing for that same new life.
Change is never easy. The endings that changes bring can tear at the deepest parts of who we are. They often leave us overwhelmed by the pressures of life around us, sometimes causing us to linger in the dark of confusion, brokenness, and isolation. In those sacred moments when we surrender to God, the tomb becomes the womb as we experience our ongoing transformation. We give up old ways and explore new paths on the journey of faith as we learn what Christian living is all about. Sometimes there is pain before the joy, but when that joy comes, we drink it in like the thirsty seed in the fertile soil.
The Transformation of the Church through Trials
In our faith community too, we see many changes, many deaths. Pastors and programs come and go. Church teachings and traditions are given new life with each new generation of believers. Through it all the Church experiences growth. If we are faithful to the message of the grain of wheat, we come to see that these deaths produce in the Body of Christ an abundant harvest of souls for the Sower of seeds. As the Church continues to become what Jesus intended her to be, she will experience this seed-death over and over again. Her people will undergo the trials of God plowing up the soil of our histories to make the ground fertile for all that is to come. We will watch as He plants the seeds of transformation in that soil so that we may yield a harvest – thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what has been sown in our lives and the lives of all who have come before us.
I would like to leave you with one thought. As you look back on your life and think about all the autumns you have experienced – whether that is today or years from now – remember this: the surrender of autumn gives way to the rebirth of spring. There is ultimately one great death to which we are being called; it is the death to sin and self. All who believe will one day surrender to that final death and yield to the sorrowful passing through fear and pain to break through to a new beginning in eternity! May God bless you and keep you through the autumns of your lives.