"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1
Our picturesque spot in the world is made even more beautiful by many acres of oaks that line roadways and dot hillsides. In wintertime when branches are barren, green balls of mistletoe become exposed, hanging from the otherwise bleak trees like defiant bits of spring clinging to a winter landscape.
An overseas friend recently asked for photos of our native mistletoe (she's never seen it growing in its natural environment), so lately I've become fascinated with finding photogenic specimens on my drive to work.
But, alas! What I've discovered is that I'm a bit too late! Once the trees begin leafing out in spring, the mistletoe becomes hidden.
The thought of mistletoe warms my soul and makes me happy because it's associated with things I love: romance and Christmas. It's hard to believe that in actuality it's a parasite that saps health from its host tree, sometimes even killing it if it takes hold strongly enough. It reminds me that things are not always as they seem.
I got an inspiration while in the quiet of Eucharistic Adoration today. Like mistletoe on an oak tree, indulgence in sin depletes me of spiritual nourishment. Sin may start small and feel good, but I must not be fooled; its aim is to take over my soul. Like winter mistletoe, it may seem beautiful at first, as though it's dressing me up; or, like spring mistletoe, it may be hidden within the "leaves" of the otherwise goodness of my life, but, ultimately, it's a killer.
I had a friend in college who spent months training for a long wilderness hike. She walked everywhere (everywhere!) with weights on her ankles. The idea was that she'd feel unencumbered in comparison when she did her actual hike.
Those ankle weights remind me of "the sin that so easily entangles" that impedes my progress in the race. I long to "throw off everything that hinders" to run my race without handicaps! But it takes time, and encouragement, and strength, and will. I am thankful I can ask my "cloud of witnesses" to intercede on my behalf, the saints in Heaven that have gone before me. Each one of them struggled and overcame in this life, and they are there at the finish line, cheering all of us on.
I am also thankful for the "cloud of witnesses" in this life, those that run the race with me, sometimes pulling me forward, sometimes allowing me to push them. They make it feel more like the team effort of a relay. Though each of us must run our own race, we can help one another to the glory of the finish line!
Lastly and most importantly, I am thankful for our Heavenly Gardener, He who knows when it's time to prune the mistletoe.
"Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." Romans 12:9