They are dying now. We see them all around us. We rejoiced when they arrived, but summer's progress dulled our notice. But now, as their life ebbs, we are drawn irresistibly to their beauty. How odd that leaves reveal their most wondrous appearance at the end. When so much in nature blooms brilliantly, giving the utmost, early on and then quickly fades away, the leaf waits. Indeed, it is not tardiness but a steady purpose that occasions its stay, a desire to exhaust all of its gifts of attractiveness, comfort, and chemistry. The capability to provide such enduring benefits rests in the deep-rooted source of its sustenance. Autumn slowly drains its vitality but also sets the stage for its crowning glory - its magnificent end. And even when fallen, lying brown and dry, it gathers the breeze and sings it recessional hymn.
God must appreciate irony: For the true beauty of a person's life is not made manifest in the full-blush of youth, but it occurs, like the leaf, near the completion of its earthly existence. If there were a chronicler of one's life, he or she would have to wait until the end before determining accurately the worth of it. Through happenstance, an individual may be exposed earlier to the impact and significance of their life's journey. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a man who narrowly escaped loosing his life. Now, recovered from his injuries and returned to work, he spoke of the overwhelming number of expressions of love and concern that he received from friends and his community during his ordeal. The experience reassured him of his credo of trying to walk humbly with God.
While this man was graced with such a positive mid-life assessment of the quality of his being, it behooves us all to recognize the daily effects that are wrought by the activity of the person we are and are becoming. I am convinced that we do not comprehend the extent to which our influence may have cultivated a growth of faith and hope in other people's lives. This is evidenced for me by those who have blessed my life with their love and encouragement, those who have afforded me the opportunity to try out my abilities or talents, those who truly cared about my current and my future well being. Due to my inadequacies, I know that I have not expressed satisfactorily what the gifts of their lives have meant to me. This insufficiency in expressing one's gratitude must be a common malady. We, however, can draw a degree of contentment from the effort we make each day to welcome God's influence on our own living - a morning prayer for guidance. How fulfilled we can feel in seriously offering our best selves to others.
There is, of course, a darker side. The infliction of grievous hurts, good acts undone, misjudgments rendered, and many other misdeeds that may go unrecorded in our consciences. In some cases, culpability may find mitigation through ignorance. More and more, however, I detect the removal of those moral filters that once aided in maintaining a virtuous character. The grace and elegance of living is under siege. There used to be a sense of self-respect and self-control that assented to a certain duty and manner in public living and also in private life. Now, a foulness of thought and deed has crept into the national character and is being promoted by some as normative or even righteous. In an age of license disguised as tolerance, one's conscience is vulnerable to a malformation caused be sin undetected or unacknowledged. No population or profession seems to be sparred.
Your friends are not religious: they are only pew-renters.
They are not moral: they are only conventional. They are
not virtuous: they are only cowardly. They are not even
vicious: they are only "frail." They are not artistic: they
are only lascivious. They are not prosperous: they
are only rich; not courageous: only quarrelsome;
not masterful, only domineering.
- Don Juan to the Devil in George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman.
The weaknesses of human nature must never be disregarded as we reach for our highest and noblest ideals. Ideals are prey to them always. Still, we must not fail to strive for the better and draw strength from our taproot Jesus Christ, lest we become as green leaves blown from their branches in a storm - never to show their potential beauty. May life's end find us beautiful in our deeds?
If finally I must acquire an image from nature to represent my soul before God, let me be the leaf.
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