Not too long ago, two dear friends of mine got really upset with each other. They got into somewhat of a shouting match. A few days prior to this shouting match, one of them had twisted their foot and was wearing a brace. At the onset of the injury and during the hospital stay, there was this friend who had been their source of support. It just so happened that the friend who had been a source of support was being overly protective and didn’t want the injured friend to put as much pressure on their injured foot. The injured friend, however, thought that this protective friend was trying to use the injury as a means of control. I didn’t notice how this simple conversation between friends, a discussion about an earlier plan to go to a party with the injured foot, could turn all too sour.
As I watched them go back and forth with each other, I felt really sorry for both of them. These are two people who care so deeply about each other, and to see them go at one another was not surprising, but it was disappointing. It wasn’t surprising because if you have lived long enough, you would know that love can sometimes turn sour. But it was disappointing because you could tell from the looks on their faces during this back-and-forth that they cared about each other, and they couldn’t even believe that they were going at each other like that.
But that’s what life is about. Sometimes we go at each other, sometimes we disappoint each other, sometimes we hurt each other’s feelings, sometimes we don’t understand why the other person is behaving the way they are, and sometimes we even hate each other. That’s life!
My basic philosophy has always been that it really doesn’t matter when we fight or even how we fight, but what happens after a fight. That’s what determines the endurance of our love for each other, and whether we fully embrace the different times and seasons in our lives and relationships as not being rosy all the time.
There’s a story of a man who had four sons and wanted them to learn how not to judge things too quickly. So he sent them each on a quest, in turn, to go look at a pear tree that was quite far away. The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in the summer, and the youngest son went that fall. Once they all had a chance to look at the pear tree, he called them together and asked them what they had seen.
The first son said the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted. The second son said that no, the tree was covered in green buds and full of promise. The third son disagreed, he said the tree was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, and was the most graceful thing he had ever seen. The last son disagreed with all three brothers; he said the tree was ripe and drooping with fruit, completely full of life and fulfillment.
The man then explained to his sons that they were all correct because they each had seen just one season in the tree’s annual life cycle. He told them that you cannot judge a tree or a person by only one season and that the essence of who they are and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life can only be measured at the end, once all the seasons are up. If you give up when it is winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, and the fulfillment of your fall. Don’t judge life by one difficult season, and don’t let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest.
The idea of times and seasons reminds me of Qoheleth’s wise words about there being a time for everything:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.
We all go through seasons, and some seasons may be tougher than others. We all go through phases of relationships, and some phases may be tougher than others. But there is a time and a season for everything - just as there is a time to walk away from others, there’s also a time to make up with those from whom we walked away. But when and how do we decide that it is time or when do we know that it is time? I do not know, and I cannot tell.
But one thing I always yearn for is a discerning spirit that helps with determining the time and the season to act. Those do not come by magic, nor do they come by happenstance. It might surprise you to know that we can be ready for it through prayer; "Pray for your enemies," Jesus said. Be always prepared for the possibility of reconciliation, for you can never tell when or how that can happen.
St. Paul encourages us to owe no one anything but love. Interestingly enough, it is the one thing that transforms our lives and others. For that reason, it is the only hope we have, it is the only hope we can hold on to, it is the only hope we can look forward to, and it is the only hope we can live with through the tumultuous seasons of our lives.
Fall begins next week. The season is changing, and as the last son said, the pear tree is loaded with drooping fruits and is full of life and fulfillment.
Which season are you, yourself, going through? Is it fall, winter, spring, or summer?
Again, it is soon to be autumn here in Columbia. As you enjoy the drooping fruits full of life, fulfillment, and the beauty of creation, please don’t forget about the other three seasons that are not far off, for each one of them ushers us into a new experience of God.
And with each new experience comes a richer understanding of who we are - to God, to ourselves, and to each other.