Once upon a time there was a leaf. Well, technically it was a bud—a tiny little ball of raw potential perched proudly on the tip of a branch in the cool springtime sun. Its home was a weathered old maple that for years had been stationed next to a well-traveled pathway, its mighty branches bowing gracefully to the people passing by, many of whom were younger than the tree itself.

As the days grew longer and the sun grew warmer, this little bud began to change. With the plentiful spring rains came much-needed nutrients, which the tree gladly delivered to the little leaf, nourishing it and allowing it to grow. Soon the bud began to unfurl, opening itself up and revealing its miniature green contours. Few people would have noticed, but within its tiny dimensions was an abundance of life.

Summer arrived, and the leaf reached full size. It spent most of its time basking in the sunlight and enjoying the warmth of the humid afternoons. It continued to receive water and nutrients through the elaborate system of roots and branches, enabling its photosynthetic operations to continue running on all cylinders. The leaf was strong and healthy. It lacked nothing. Life was good. People passed by and enjoyed its shade.

But then something began to happen. The sunlight—which the leaf had previously enjoyed in such abundance—began to diminish. In the mornings, darkness lingered. In the evenings, the red and orange hues of the approaching dusk stretched themselves across the sky much sooner than they used to. And not only that, but the water and nutrients from the tree began to grow scarce, almost as if the stately old maple had become tired of sharing its resources.

Meanwhile, the leaf grew sad. And confused. And scared. But most of all, it grew weak. Despite its best efforts, the leaf simply could no longer function like it used to. Even the simplest tasks became tiring, and then difficult, and then impossible. The leaf could feel itself drying up. Day by day, it grew closer and closer to what felt like an inevitable demise. It drooped in sorrow.

And yet in the midst of its distress, the leaf noticed something. It noticed that the people passing by began to stop. And linger. And look. Small children and elderly men, hurried executives and lonely widows, mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers—they all paused to marvel. Their faces softened and smiled. They took pictures and they spoke of beauty. They seemed to be genuinely entranced by this weak, dying leaf, who for the life of it couldn’t figure out why. After all, it had nothing left to offer to the world. How could anyone find it beautiful? It had been emptied of everything. It was worthless. It wasn’t even green any more.

My friend, do you think it’s possible that suffering can make you beautiful? Do you think there’s a way for God to take your weakness, your brokenness, your loneliness, your disappointment, your pain, your grief, your limitations, your anxiety, and make them into a stunning array of breathtaking colors that cause others to stop and marvel? Do you think it’s possible that what you thought were the bleakest moments of your life will end up (somehow) being your brightest moments?

You might feel empty and alone. You might feel worthless and broken. But I implore you: remember the parable of the leaf. Remember that in the depths of your suffering, God can display his glory in ways that he never could at the height of your strength. There is an autumnal splendor that simply cannot be seen in the sunshine of June.

Do you recall what the Lord told the apostle Paul? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The same promise has been given to you. Even at your worst, you just might unknowingly be lighting up the world.

So be encouraged, little leaves. You have no idea how beautiful you are.

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