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  • Writer's pictureRichard Parrish

Leaves of The Past

Wouldn’t our lives be better if we were more like trees?

There was a short time in my childhood when I lived in Michigan. Today, living in a desert climate, I still miss the distinct “smell” of the fall season and the abundant color of foliage.

Fall could often be short-lived in Michigan! Rapidly falling temperatures encouraged the dropping of leaves.

I remember lying on my back, looking upward at the leaves high above my head. I would stare at them, clinging to the branches, watching for hours as the breeze would cause them to detach and softly float to the ground.

The closer to winter, the more leaves to rake! And with the passing of fall, trees became bare.

Jeffrey McDaniel wrote:

“I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go” [emphasis mine].

It seems that trees naturally understand that “clinging leaves” can jeopardize their well-being! Without dropping leaves, the weight will cause its branches to break!

Wouldn’t it be beneficial for us if we were more like trees?

Releasing the past is hard for many of us. Some leaves in our history are beautiful. We want to cling to those beautiful memories as long as possible.

However, not all of our foliage is appealing.

Some of our leaves are battered by the wind of adversity, conflict, and struggle. Unlike the gorgeous fall leaves that we want to cherish, some memories are unattractive.

We want to shed them, but they seem to firmly adhere to us, weighing us down until we think we’re going to break. And — without the shedding of those leaves, we can break!

Although trees may be experts in letting things go, I’m not!

Even as I write this today, I’m aware of a past incident that continues to trouble me. Try as hard as I can; it seems that this particular “stubborn leaf” refuses to detach!

The problem of clinging to the past — or allowing the past to stick to us — is it prevents growth. The possibility of growth for any deciduous tree requires the shedding of leaves. And, so it is with us.

The prophet Isaiah writes:

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?…⁠[1]”

I have friends who only speak of beautiful memories: “I remember when…;” savoring a nostalgic (and often idealistic) view of how everything was superb! The problem of living in the land of nostalgia is we fail to see the new growth God is producing.

God is always present, active, and ready to generate new growth. A bare tree that has shed its leaves (and weight) may appear to be lifeless. We may not perceive the growth that is occurring. But it’s there! In time we will see the budding of new foliage!

However, not all memories are pleasant. Some haunt us: unexpected failures, painful relationships, and wounds that are still tender! These leaves can weigh us down to the point of breaking us!

Have you ever caught yourself thinking: “I should have, could have or I wish I would have…?” Those thoughts reveal that the “leaves of the past” still cling to us.

On my tree, there are still leaves of failure, bitterness, and regrets. I’ve not always responded the way I should have, could have, or would have. These are the leaves that I want to detach from my life but find it difficult to shed them.

However, here’s good news!

God’s love and forgiveness are always available. God graciously allows me to learn from my failures, empowers me to release bitterness, and permits me to see the beauty in the regrets of my life.

Holding on to the leaves of the past — beautiful or hideous — impedes future growth. And, without dropping them, the weight of those leaves can break me.

The apostle Paul’s words help me remember that letting go of the past is an intentional, on-going process:

“… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.⁠[2]”

Have you checked your branches, lately? Is it time to shed some leaves so that new growth can take place?


[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Is 43:18–19.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Php 3:13–14.

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