Seeds, Roots, Trees, and Ethan
For those of us who revolve our lives around the school calendar, this month, May, is notorious for being the worst. It’s full of all the heavy stuff like AP exams, finals, essays, grading, graduation, technical errors and, more often than not, paying the piper for all the procrastinating we’ve done throughout the year.
(It does pile up, doesn’t it?)
But today let’s consider something else May is also about.
It’s when we are invited to try, once again, to prepare to end something well.
One of our previous blog posts was about Easter—about the exciting news that Jesus resurrected and conquered death. After Easter comes the ascension, which is where Jesus “graduates” into his position at the right hand of the Father where he lives and reigns now and forever.
This will mean, however, that the disciples have to say a final goodbye. Yes, they can hang onto the hope of heaven and the age to come where they (and we) will be reunited with Christ once more but that’s a different thing.
But this thing, the thing where they’ve walked and talked and eaten and joked with Jesus in the flesh (both before and after the cross),
These disciples are about to practice the discipline of letting something (someone) go.
May is like that.
Unfortunately, I think sometimes we miss the opportunity to practice this discipline. We think May is just about getting to the end but maybe it can be also about taking moments to notice what is happening around us and through us as we make our way to the end.
This week one of our full time OCO seniors was invited to share about his four years in Spiritual Life and Bible. As a class we read Psalm 92:12-14 about the cedars of Lebanon and then discussed the life cycle of a tree from a seed, to a seedling, to a baby tree, to a well rooted tree, to a fruit bearing tree. One of the challenges we have as such a result-based people is to see the value in all of the phases of growth we experience with God—not just the bearing fruit part.
Because usually when we’re ending something we want to feel like it’s been conquered. That it’s done.
But our life with God is never done…
Even if we feel we’ve finally reached a point where we’re bearing fruit we are only a season away from the fruit falling and reseeding again.
Growth just keeps growing.
Even Ethan, the senior who spoke, admitted that he still considers himself to be in the seed phase of his own spiritual life. If I’m being honest, this made me pretty proud because it implies that he recognizes that he is still growing even as he’s about to reach this huge milestone in his life. It suggests that even at the end of something, he’s open to more to come.
After looking at the psalm, we had a chance to hear from Ethan about a special project he worked on last summer that has shaped so much of his senior year.
In Bible 3 students like Ethan learn about the spiritual disciplines—things like prayer, service, submission, etc. At the end of his junior year, Ethan realized that he wanted to go deeper in his understanding of submission and solitude (two of the disciplines we study in that course). With this in mind, he reached out to me to see if I could help him come up with a way to spend the summer doing an extra project (for no points) to take these ideas further.
(BTW, to the teachers reading this: I swear this really happened.)
In response to his request, I came up with four books he could read (as well as the gospel of Mark) in order to trace the lives of five very different male protagonists to see how they each uniquely practiced solitude and simplicity and as a result experienced personal growth and transformation. By extension, Ethan was also able to experience growth and transformation from learning more about these two spiritual disciplines.
He said: “Coming to Oaks was kind of my first taste of specifically looking at different aspects of the Bible and different aspects of Jesus and I don’t think I ever realized how many dimensions there were to religion. And that was something that really peaked my interest….So for me moving forward to the project, I had so many more questions now that I had scratched the surface and I really wanted to pick something where I could completely dive into it and devote my time to that.”
From working on this extra project he gained a deeper understanding of how disengaging from the world in order to practice simplicity and solitude actually enlivens and enriches you as you return to “normal” life again.
Simplicity he described as “redirecting from unnecessary things” and solitude he recognized as a practice that helps you to “not fall into social traps” and instead “be aware of your own faith and how your connection with God is and how strong that is and then to bring that into [everything else]”.
(Isn’t that wise? Sometimes our students have so much to teach us.)
For Ethan simplicity and solitude became the vehicles for new God experiences that would otherwise have felt vague and inaccessible. About this he shares, “I felt like my biggest challenge was in finding God in that transition from big [transcendent] to small [imminent], finding where it was super personal, directly affecting me. Finding how I can move with him, this worldwide universal God”.
It’s the “moving with God” part that I think we need in the month of May. The sense that we’re still in the dance with God, even as we are being pulled in many different directions as we close out the year. Because when you’re dancing, you’re not in a hurry for the song to end, you’re just experiencing it.
One of the things I’ve learned most from Ethan in recent months is how to end a season well. Ethan shared that he has been taking what he learned from the project and intentionally using these last few months of school to go on more hikes and get in that extra solitude time before he graduates.
Readers: he’s doing this now.
He’s not waiting until summer.
He’s finding this time during the busyness that is all around him.
What if when life is most intense we chose that time to simplify our lives where possible and create space for personal time with God?
What if May could be about something else besides just surviving?
Some of you reading this will hear this as me suggesting that you add yet another list of responsibilities to your already packed to do list. If that’s what you hear, then close this blog and don’t let it burden you. God is good and is with you and loves you and cherishes you and goes with you as you just get through this month. I believe in you and I totally get it.
On the other hand, maybe something Ethan shared stirred something in you. Maybe something about a high school senior using his final months in school to subversively seek quiet inspires you to consider trying something different this May.
Because here’s the thing—no matter what you do—the end of the school year always comes. That last day shows up eventually. The grades get submitted and the courses do close. There will be a lot of work. Those parts you can’t really control, just manage.
But maybe there is room for you to choose to find something else besides the drama of the final month. Maybe you will take some time to think about the students you’re leaving behind and what you’ve learned this year and what Spirit invitations came your way lately that you weren’t expecting.
Maybe in prayer you seek out things you might need to leave behind because the work you do in May is so important. Maybe this is a time where God might meet you and provide you solitude in the midst of emails, excel sheets, notifications, calendars, and submissions.
What if these intentional faith practices could be the fuel and the inspiration for closing out and “finishing strong” as we always say to each other during this time?
What if May could be a time of spiritual exploration instead of hectic stagnation?
What if you found the ability to do the month of May through solitude and simplicity?
What if, "in repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15)?