We all know when we’re in the middle of a fire.
I’m not talking about the wood-burning kind made up of super-hot flames. I’m talking about the kind of fire that rages on the inside, an emotional fire, the kind that leads some people to anger and others to depression. The kind of fire that leaves you second-guessing your purpose, or your current direction. Or maybe it’s a fire that feels like it’s destroying your life through loss or disappointment or failure.
Sometimes it smoulders. Sometimes it blazes through in a flash.
I can always tell when I’m in the middle of one of these fires because I start to do things that are completely unlike me. Things like getting angry at a Best Western customer service person because they told me the wrong price. Things like wanting to ram my Mac down the Mac store person’s throat because the only reason I bought AppleCare was because the woman who sold me the computer implied that it covered accidental damage. It doesn’t cover accidental damage and now I’m looking at $700 worth of repairs and weighing up whether or not throwing the Mac up against their shiny glass storefront would feel good enough to compensate for the additional financial hit I would take due to, you know, vandalism and stuff.
These are theoretical examples of course.
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The fire rages in our lives, and in its wake we are left feeling disappointed, bitter, angry or depressed. Or all four. Or something else. The landscape of our life begins to feel charred and dead. Worthless. Mordor-like.
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At Yellowstone National Park, I made my first acquaintance with Lodgepole Pines. A hardy species, they grow in high elevations and close together. So close together, in fact, that they thin each other out, and the dead trees fall over, leaning against the live ones. This may seem insignificant, but when a fire comes through, the leaning, dead trees provide a kind of kindling that allows the fire to race to the top of the tree line, obliterating every single tree.
The bark is also thin, lessening its resistance to heat and flames. You could say that these trees are, in some ways, built to facilitate their own death by fire.
But there’s one other thing about the Lodgepole Pine, something important, and it has to do with its pine cone. This particular cone is a prickly little son-of-a-gun, and a sticky, sappy adhesive holds it tightly shut, enclosing its seeds. The cones fall and gather on the forest floor, up to 50,000 per acre each year, but no new trees can grow, because the cones are glued shut. Nothing can open them.
Well, one thing can.
And when that fire comes, it blazes through the Lodgepole Pines. It races up the deadwood, devouring every single tree, leaving nothing but charred, black stumps behind. Nothing but ash and death.
But it also opens up all of those pine cones, leaving millions of released seeds behind, and the seeds fall into the rich soil, and the rain and the sunlight, which can now come through, lift up a new generation of life.
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This is what that internal fire will do for me, if I let it. It will (painfully) remove all the existing brush and deadwood and even, horror upon horrors, the living things. The things I’ve spent so much time growing and nurturing. But it also releases all the seeds of life that were stuck inside of me, the ideas and the emotions and the plans that never would have come to fruition without the fire. Without the destruction.
And the life that springs up out of that regeneration: what abundant life.