Lessons from the Berry Patch
It’s one of those things that just happens, sometimes. You’re working along picking berries, filling your bucket and having a good day at the berry patch. You’ve reached your hand in through a wall of thorns, carefully selecting one big ripe berry after another while avoiding pricks. You draw back your hand, now full to overflowing with carefully cradled juicy ripe berries, to make another deposit into your berry bucket. Unexpectedly, your shirt-sleeve snags on a thorn, and the carefully cradled berries spill out of your hand to the ground, below.
What a disappointment! What do you do now? Those are your berries! You have already invested all the work of extracting them from their thorn-laden vines, to gather them into your bucket. You have fought thorns, heat, sunburn and insects to gather those berries! Right now, they seem to you like the very biggest and juiciest berries you’ve picked all day. You had them in your hand, and now they are gone.
Your first instinct will be to drop to your knees and begin gathering those dropped berries back up.
My advice is to resist that instinct. Just leave those dropped berries on the ground, and move on to more berries hanging on the vine.
Now, this advice probably sounds odd coming from me. Up until now, I have advised always pursuing the gathering of more berries, pushing past every obstacle to fill your bucket with those juicy black delectable delights. Now, I am advising leaving perfectly good berries to rot on the ground, berries that you have already gone to the trouble of picking.
It does run counter-intuitive to much of my other advice. In fact, this is one of the lessons I have the most trouble following myself. By the time I’ve retrieved a handful of berries from the thorny vines, I have an emotional investment in those specific berries. They are no longer just berries in the patch that I would like to gather. They are now mine! They are berries I have already gathered and that I am prepared to defend, in order to keep.
To make matters worse, some of the spilled berries may be laying where I can easily see them, still supported by thorns, and not yet hidden in the brown leaves and grass of the berry-patch floor. I’ll just reach back through the thorns, and pick them up again…
The problem is, it doesn’t work that way. As soon as you touch one of the vines supporting a fallen berry, it drops on down to be hidden in the grass and leaves on the ground. Normally, when you pick a berry, it stays attached to the vine until you slip your cupped hand beneath it and tug gently with your fingers to drop it into your hand. With the spilled berries, there is no support and no room to get your hand under them. The more you try to retrieve them, the further they burrow into the carpet of grass and leaves.
Now, I’m not saying they are impossible to retrieve. If you work hard at it, you will likely recover some of them. If they were the last berries on earth and you were starving, you would probably find a way to retrieve all of them.
However, they’re not the last berries on earth. In fact, there is a multitude of more berries waiting to be picked, right here in the same berry patch! And with the ratio of time spent to berries picked, it just doesn’t make sense to waste your time trying to retrieve spilled berries. You would spend at least ten times longer retrieving the dropped berries than you would moving on to pick an equal number of berries off the vine. See, the time and effort you invest in trying to retrieve the lost berries directly detracts from the time and energy available for picking new berries. The spilled berries are just not a good investment of your time, with so many other berries available for picking.
Moreover, continued pursuit of spilled berries takes your eye off the goal. Perfectly good, ripe juicy berries are hanging right in front of your face, and you are ignoring them while continuing to pursue the lost opportunity of the dropped berries.
My advice is to stop thinking about the spilled berries and immediately move on to picking more berries from the vine. At the end of the day, those fallen berries won’t make any noticeable difference in how full your bucket it is…but time wasted trying to retrieve them would.
Life includes many disappointments and many lost opportunities. There are many things in life that just don’t work out the way we hoped they would.
Relationships, ministries, employment opportunities, career paths, and a multitude of other activities are all investments we choose to make with our time and resources, anticipating some sort of return. Some work out well and some don’t. Some exceed all our expectations, while others just fizzle.
Don’t waste time continuing to pursue lost opportunities. Whether a job opportunity that took an unexpected (and undesired) turn, a relationship that did not work out as you hoped, or a ministry that never developed, let it go and move on to other opportunities. Life is too short and too full of opportunities to waste time pursuing what you should already have learned hasn’t worked.
Thus far, in the previous Lessons from the Berry Patch, I have encouraged going for the gold, putting your fears behind you and giving that new ministry, new relationship, or new opportunity all you’ve got. With this lesson, I am not changing direction. Rather, I am pointing out that giving that new opportunity all you’ve got sometimes means first letting go of a previous lost opportunity that did not work out.
The more time and effort we invest in a given ministry or relationship, the greater our emotional attachment. We stop seeing it as an opportunity and start seeing it as a part of who we are. Which means it is really hard to let go and walk away, when it fails. We tend to continue pursuing that same lost opportunity far past the time it makes sense, when we should let it go and move on to new opportunities.
In Isaiah 43:18-19, God told the prophet, “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Note that it is necessary to forget the former things in order to receive and embrace the new things God has in store for us. This does not mean erasing all memory of any lessons learned, but it does mean letting go of emotional attachment and ceasing to dwell on them.
For the believer in Christ, the primary goal is to be conformed to His image, to glorify Christ in how we live our lives, and to fulfill the destiny for which He has predestined us before the foundation of the world. In reference to pursuing this goal the author of the book of Hebrews encourages us, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Note that single-minded pursuit of the goal requires first that we “lay aside every encumbrance.” In the second chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds them where they came from, who they now are in Christ, and of how little value are those things they once held dear. Then he goes on to say “in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”(Ephesians 4:22-24).
In the berry patch, the difference between lost opportunities and fresh prospects is fairly clear cut. My rule is simply that once a berry has been dropped, it is no longer worth pursuing.
In life, the differences are often much more difficult to discern. It is much more difficult to tell, in a relationship, whether it just needs more tending and nurturing, or whether it is time to let it go. We don’t want to be guilty of being too scared of thorns to wade in and do the necessary hard work. Neither do we want to continue wasting our time on a relationship or ministry that is simply over.
This is where we have to rely on God’s wisdom, spending time in Bible study and prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to show us the right path.
There will be times, though, when the right path is to let go and move on. When those times come, stop wasting time and effort on the lost opportunity, and start focusing on whatever new opportunities God may lead you toward.
(please add your comments to this post):
What are some examples from your life, in which you had to recognize that it was time to let go of something in which you had invested a great deal of time and effort?
Are there any things in your life, now, that are an encumbrance to pursuing the goals God has placed before you? Is it time to lay them aside?