While on retreat last week I learned a lot from sitting in front of an aged, thick-branched cottonwood tree. One leaf in particular caught my attention as it swayed in the breeze. I was taken with the leaf, not because it dangled directly in front of me, but because one third of its forest-green self had disappeared. Nothing there. Just empty space—as if someone performed a surgical amputation. I do not know whether a voracious insect ate that part or if the wind ripped it away. What I do know is that the rest of the resilient leaf remained alive and thriving.
That leaf became a metaphor regarding pieces of my life left behind by unwanted events. Yet, not all has been lost. I marvel at how much remains positive and prosperous in spite of the empty patches. I remembered Carrie Newcomer’s song, “You Can Do This Hard thing.
” I’ve listened to it often since discovering it a year ago. The verses of the song describe instances of something she either felt she could not do or did not want to do. During these times someone encouraged her with “you can do this hard thing.” In the refrain, Newcomer sings: ““It’s not easy I know, but I believe it is so; you can do this hard thing.”
Sojourner Truth must have said this to herself every time she took one of her dangerous, fear-laden journeys to rescue yet another slave. Every person who fought for women’s suffrage had to remind herself “you can do this hard thing.” Each man and woman who deliberately went into the ravages caused by the September 11 terrorist attack moved forward with courage, trusting they could do the hard things of rescuing, counseling and providing the required medical care.
Sometimes there are things we can’t avoid. We have to trust in our ability to meet them head on, to have our courage coaxed forth so we can make it though to the other side. Think back on your life’s disturbing situations, how you managed to do the hard thing, to get though what upset and disoriented you. These memories can help us retain our hope of not caving in to the tough experience of the current pandemic. Medical experts believe this virus is not going away any time soon. We are in it, as the saying goes, “for the long haul.” How will we manage during the winter months? What can keep us from sinking into a pit of discouragement? Where is the grounding that keeps our peace strong and prevents our joy from eroding? What will enable us to sustain valued relationships?
Besides Newcomer’s encouraging song, there’s a passage in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that offers support for those who feel pressed upon and laid low when strife invades and dominates one’s daily life. Paul assures the people that they (and us) are like clay jars holding the treasure of divinity, that this “extraordinary power” provides a mainstay in times of trouble: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed…” (2Cor4:7-9)
Knowing we have this inner strength, let us assure ourselves and those around us: “You can do this hard thing. You can be that partially emptied leaf and still be alive and thriving. You have it within you to do so.”
© Joyce Rupp
Reproduced on the Marley Parish website by kind permission of Sister Joyce Rupp, osm.
Joyce Rupp/Servants of Mary, 1165 Office Park Rd., # 308, West Des Moines, IA 50265