I Just Couldn't Leaf It Alone

Uncategorized Jan 04, 2024

While walking in my neighborhood recently, I came across a tree branch that a storm had blown down. It had landed not far from the tree, still close enough to catch the shade. The leaves of the tree were green, and the branch seemed healthy. But clearly, the wind had just been too much for it.

As days passed, the branch’s green leaves faded and dulled. A short time later, the leaves turned brown altogether and withered. I paused my walk to consider the dried branch. The more I looked at the dead branch, the more it became a vivid illustration. I thought about how it was close to its source of life but still died. I thought about how the green leaves did not turn brown immediately but over a few days. And I thought about the difference between the weather on the day the branch broke and the day I took this picture. The dead branch became a life lesson. Let me share three of them. 

First, connectivity is different from proximity. Anything in our life that is healthy is growing. A healthy marriage grows and matures; it develops and complexes and becomes more layered. A healthy family grows and changes over time, and the result improves daily. A healthy career grows as we mature and increase our skills and businesses. And our spiritual relationship grows and becomes deeper the more time we spend with God. 

Anything that grows requires a source of life. Marriages take work, and time, and love, and forgiveness. Families require patience, and nurture, and more patience. Our friends, jobs, and calling all require a lifeline of connection between each other and God. The dead branch reminded me we can live in the same house while our marriage dries up. We can go to church and yet die spiritually. We can become disconnected from friends even while we grill steaks with them once a month. We can become stale in our careers while still showing up to work each day. Just because we are in proximity does not mean we are connected and living.

Second, the results of disconnection are only apparent after a period of time. The green does not fade from the disconnected branch on day one. But gradually, little by little, it becomes clear that connection has been lost. Marriages that fall apart show it not in increments of hours but in months. That wayward son or daughter is wedged out one day at a time - and years later, that gap between parent and child has become an obvious canyon. 

The tree branch reminded me how important it was not to wait but to take immediate action to keep thriving connections alive. We must romance our spouse today. We must love our children actively and through actions right now. We must resist procrastination and stop putting off actions that will feed and nurture healthy relationships. Reach for the next positive career development today, not tomorrow. By the time we notice the results of our broken connections, it will be harder to mend them because yesterday’s disconnection will likely not show up until tomorrow.

Last, much like that branch, disconnection may happen in stormy times, but dying continues on sunny days. Take a look at my picture. You’ll see a blue sky and bright sunshine with some clouds around. The weather was rough on the day of the storm, the day the branch broke. But the days following were days of pleasant and fair weather. Sometimes, rough storms like disease, dysfunction, and disaster are the triggers that break the branches of our relationships. But since disconnection shows up gradually, it becomes evident during the days that should be pleasant.

We have all had the experience of a holiday gathering where old hurts hang heavy between parent and child, siblings, or cousins. Pleasant times become glaring snapshots of disconnection that happened long in the past. And none of us can change the past. We certainly cannot unlive the tragedies and storms we have experienced. Storm damage breaks us apart suddenly. But there is hope - and this is where the tree branch becomes a message for us in a slightly different way. There is no more life in that branch, but our body still has breath. Unlike the tree branch, we are still alive. There is still a chance to graft in connection with our loved ones and our Lord.

Unlike the tree branch, we don’t have just to lie there. Each of us can get up, turn toward the source of life, walk back to that tree, and reach for connection once more. It’s worth it, I thought as I stared at the tree branch. I just couldn’t leaf it alone.


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