My favorite time of year is Spring. I love watching plants come alive after the deep, dark winter months. We have a white magnolia tree outside our front window. Every year around the first week of April giant flowers explode all across this 10ft high tree and I feel my own heart bursting with gratitude. I can’t help but think of the many times that the scriptures use trees as a metaphor. Jesus spoke of how a mustard seed grows into a gigantic tree that becomes home to all varieties of animals. Zenos in the Book of Mormon compared all of the people of the world to olive trees. I can’t help but think of myself as that magnolia tree.
When we first planted it, it grew quickly, gaining several feet in height in just a season. It was tall but skinny and I worried about it during several windstorms. “Did we plant it too close to the house?” “Were the stakes holding it up strong enough to keep it from blowing over?” Then when winter came and it seems to lose all of its broad leaves in one afternoon I was sure it was going to die and we’d have to chop it down, but we waited to see what would happen in spring. Sure enough, the first year it bloomed and there were a total of 3 blossoms. I was deflated, but happy that it at least wasn’t dead. I resigned myself to a better showing the following spring. Over the next few years, my magnolia didn’t get much taller, but the trunk widened and it no longer needed external supports. I couldn’t see it but I hoped that the roots were strong and deep. Every year when the cold weather comes I am sad to see the leaves quickly fall from my favorite tree and it begins hibernation until the warm weather returns.
My faith feels deciduous. I have seasons of great blossoming, seasons when my roots grow deep into the earth, and seasons when I feel completely alone and cut off from God. I have learned to accept this cycle as part of the growth process because like my magnolia, I’ve come to understand that to enjoy the rebirth of Spring, something first has to die.
Nicodemus, I’m assuming, wasn’t a stupid man. Yet he had difficulty understanding that Jesus was asking his disciples to be born again. Maybe it was because he couldn’t see past the metaphor, maybe it was because he felt Jesus was asking him to give up too much, maybe he understood but his heart wasn’t yet in it. We cannot know, but centuries later we can learn from this intimate dialog. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that metamorphosis is required. A deep, soul altering, change is the only way to grow.
I’m learning that it’s not a one-time event. It’s cyclical. Season by season, hour by hour, I have to let go of what I’m holding on to. If my magnolia could talk I wonder if it would mourn the loss of its beautiful leaves each year? Or if it would gladly throw them off in anticipation for the hard-won reawakening after a long winter? Would it wish to hold on to its leaves for protection from the snow and wind? Or does it understand that the Winter is a time of growth too? That in the dark trying months of cold the nutrients it has stored up all last year are framing beautiful giant blossoms?
Viewing my faith in this manner has helped me repent more readily. The practice has taught me that I am going to have to hurt. I might even occasionally mourn the sins I am trying to give up but when I look of Jesus Christ I can find the hope of new beginnings I need to carry on.