Learning the unforced rhythms of grace

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Within Reach

On my walk today, I noticed a woman working in her yard. She was wearing a hat with a wide rim and sunglasses. She had a bucket in one hand and clippers in the other and walked around a huge spruce tree trimming odd branches that stuck out a little too much. She then gathered all the pinecones that the squirrel had thrown down and raked and tidied up the base of the large tree. 

It looked good. I admired her work.

But then I looked up.

Beyond the six foot reach that this woman had, the tree stretched way above the roof of the house. Wild branches stuck out in random patterns and weighed heavy with cones that the squirrel had not yet harvested. This tree was huge and wild and beautiful. 

I was struck with the contrast of her view and mine.

On one hand, I wanted to shout, "Great work! Well done!" but I also wanted to invite her to stand where I was and look up at the vast enormity of the tree and be in awe. I wanted to say to her, "See . . . look up and see how much more is going on. It's so out of your control!" But . . . watching her wipe the sweat from her forehead and stretch out her back before carrying her tools to the shed reminded me to smile, nod and just keep walking.

Photo credit: Randy Hayashi

Photo credit: Randy Hayashi

There is nothing wrong with managing what is within our reach. Gardening is often enjoyable just for the sensory experience of smelling the freshly cut grass and watching the bees fly from flower to flower. I often sit on the ground and weed with my hands just for the feel of dirt between my fingers. This woman did nothing wrong by taking care of the lower portion of that enormous tree. 

But it made me wonder . . . what am I focused on in my own life that may be out of perspective? Am I feeling like I am successful in a particular area or that I've managed something to perfection when if I was to step back, I might see that my contribution is in fact quite small?

Relationships might be a good place to start. Do I feel that the happiness of the people closest to me depends on me doing the right things, at the right time and perfectly in line with fulfilling a need for them? Do I see myself as the sole person who puts the right amount of coins in to keep things working properly? Have I taken on a self-proclaimed pressure to perfect and manage relationships without stepping back to see a bigger picture?

I'm always humbled to observe that I can never really know someone fully. I love to ask questions and am curious about how others think, how they process things, what conclusions they come to and who they are becoming. But I am ALWAYS surprised. Just when I think someone may respond a certain way, they don't. They met someone, read a book, spent time with Jesus, learned from past mistakes, matured, changed and respond in a way that I didn't expect! 

Perhaps stepping back means realizing that there are many other factors in place besides our contribution. Perhaps it means taking off our sunglasses and hat and looking up to see how big and out of our control things really are in order to see what our contribution really needs to be. 

It would be foolish of us to think that we've got our finances managed perfectly, our house in order, our health secure and our relationships controlled. These are enormous, wild and beautiful things that extend way beyond our reach. We must attend to and invest time and energy in these things. But God invites us to step back, look up, take a deep breath and relax. He is God and we are not. He is in control and He can be trusted.

"You, Lord, give perfect peace
    to those who keep their purpose firm
    and put their trust in you." Isaiah 26:3