Luke 13:9 NIV If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.
We moved into our new house in Spring. I was two years old. Our new yard was huge- much bigger than the tiny plot of grass at our old house. And there were so many trees. One morning, one tree appeared to be covered in snow, another in pink cotton candy.
“Those are blossoms,” said my dad. “Soon the trees will grow fruit.”
As I’d never known anything edible to appear anywhere other than at Binder’s grocery store in our old neighborhood, I was intrigued that fruit would grow in my yard. I started each day looking for fruit in the yard. Later each day, my dad would hold me up to the branches and together we’d peer between the leaves. Sure enough. one day there were tiny green things that looked like grapes.
“Soon they’ll be apples and plums,” said my dad. And within a few weeks, there were plums galore. We ate and ate the juicy fruit from June through July. When it was almost gone, the green balls on the other tree turned pink and red. We ate apples from August through October.
Months later, a snow-like covering blanketed the plum tree again. I thought the fruit was about to come again but I was wrong. This time it was snow.
We waited. As the days grew longer and as I outgrew my snowsuit, the blossoms came again. We gave the tree special food and drink for her roots to drink up into the branches.
“Let’s watch for fruit again,” I requested. And we did. We checked every day and were pleased that hundreds of plums hung from the branches of our familiar friend. The plums were so heavy that they hung low to the ground. We knew not to eat plums until the color came. The plum tree looked proud at the fruit of her labors.
The branches grew heavier and lower. The tree appeared to be lugging large bags of groceries. One day, she looked injured. Sure enough, a branch produced so much fruit that the heavy burden ripped the branch from the tree, splitting off a chunk of her trunk. The opposite side of the tree seemed off balance and her remaining branches sagged, pulling her sideways. Lots of the perfectly formed fruit fell to the ground as mush. The yard became a slippery stomping ground of pretend applesauce. Our plum tree looked so sad with her gift to us ruined.
Years later, the crooked, broken plum tree with its wasted fruit came to mind as I listened attentively to a speaker on burnout.
She talked about margins in our life: margins are the space between our load and our limits. When our loads grow to challenge our limits, we bend and break. We’re thrown off balance. Our efforts are wasted.
We survive only when do one or more of these things.
1. Ask for help to manage our loads.
2. Eliminate some of our load- often with help.
3. Shore up ourselves with external support, temporarily making us more able.
For people, the management strategies involve human support, technological advances and tips for time and stress management.
For our plum tree, a system of long poles and ropes provided support for the next season as did selective pre-picking. We kids pulled off any plums with lesions, bugs or bad shapes. We used these to play fruit market and war games- plums made great grenades. Ultimately, we lightened the load for our plum tree companion. And we helped her to bear the plums we longed to eat.
With our help, she produced hundreds of sweet morsels- more than we could eat. She fed us. She fed the neighborhood. She also taught us important lessons.
There are times when lofty goals prod us forward. For a minute we feel invincible, prolific, “in our creative flow.” More intriguing tasks come our way and we say “yes.” We increase our loads. We lose our margins. We reach our limits. We forget to ask for help. Sometimes we break, wasting all of our efforts. Our precious fruits turn to mush; slippery, slimy mush.
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