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Holding On to Dead Leaves

by the Rev. Erin Jean Warde

For the month of January, we will be thinking about what it means to rest, feel renewal, and let things fall away. I find this especially challenging as a person who, come November, begins vaguely thinking about how much she needs to change. Or, if I’m being more honest: as a person who can find something new about herself she’d like to change with each passing day. I’m also a staunch planner, so when a new year beckons, I begin to wonder what personal goals I should be tracking on my Tomoe river paper.

The problem is, of course, that “new years resolutions” for me would be better termed “something to tide her over until she begins to think about Lenten disciplines.” And neither of them will reach their fruition. I once did the Whole 30 diet plan, but as I tell it, I completed Whole 28. I am, in short, not very faithful to my disciplines, and the best way to get over the shame of an unfulfilled discipline is to start a new one. The shame actually gets to me, over time. I’ve grown to be ashamed of how prodigal my prayer life can become, how disordered I can be, how rarely I finish things that I prayerfully and earnestly start.  I say that to say that while this series of reflections in the month of January was my idea, it was not because I have wisdom to impart about how to rest, renew, and let things fall away. It was my idea, because I’m tired, I feel tarnished, and I’m holding on to dead leaves with white knuckles, wishing they were trees.

I need to rest, renew, and let some things fall away, because I have taken on quite a bit in recent days, both in time and in soul. And there’s no problem with taking on new things. If you are reading this as a person with new year’s resolutions, please know that they are welcomed! My concern with myself is not that I sometimes take on new things. The problem is that I take on new things and never let anything else fall away. The inability to let go within the same breath that we welcome something new is the poison that makes joyful new opportunities into simmering resentments, once seasoned with time. Sure, we don’t always let something go if we usher in something new, but if we aren’t willing to track how much we are letting in and how often we are doing the hard work of letting go, we might find that simmering resentments become boiling angers, taking away from us the creativity and joy that made new ventures seem worth the added responsibility.

In all that I do, ideas of resting, renewing, and letting things fall away become present, because all are found within the narrative that binds together all my narratives: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no renewing without death. Nothing can fall away if it was not once tenderly held. We rest not from apathy, but from labors, many of which are for us labors of love. These dichotomies mark the work we will do, as they mark my own life of faith.

It’s possible that this is not the time in your life when this attitude toward the new year is helpful. In that case, you might store these away for later, reading them as bread for the journey further down the road. If you’re currently doing new year’s resolutions, my hope is that this will be a supplement to your resolutions, a way to encourage you in those decisions, and a way to help discern how much power our decisions around time have in our lives—both for our good and against our best interests.

In closing, I would like to see my false belief that I am the planner of my own life fall away. I would like to rest from my tiresome attempts to try to change myself, knowing that God created me and can be the only true force of change in my life. I’d like to renew my spirit of surrender and receive the peace that comes when I get out of my own way. May you seek and find whatever in you needs to rest, whatever in you needs to be renewed, and whatever in you needs to fall away.

The Rev. Erin Jean Warde is an Episcopal priest and writer. She's currently an Okie, but will move back to Texas in the coming months. She grew up in Alabama and you can hear it when she talks. She works as a Teaching Assistant at Tempest Sobriety School and studied English and Creative Writing at Troy University and received her M.Div from Seminary of the Southwest. When she is not writing, verbally processing, and laughing, she can be found in a coffee shop or vintage store making new friends. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @erinjeanwarde.


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