“When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.” Genesis 8:11
Peace. Hope. Victory. That is what the olive leaf from the story of Noah’s ark symbolizes. When the dove brings back that very real and physical representation of life, we are reminded that even in the most tragic of stories there is hope. There is healing. There is an olive leaf.
We all know the smiling animals version of the Noah’s ark story from our childhood in church. Sunday school rooms are notorious for having that brightly colored picture of the ark, two of every kind of animal, Noah’s happy family, and a rainbow perfectly arched over the entire scene. However, God choosing to flood the entire earth is actually extremely sad, dark, and lonely.
Can you imagine? Your entire family lives on a boat for 40 days and 40 nights, while the rest of the world drowns and dies all around you.
Maybe you can imagine actually…
With everything going on in the world right now, many of us do feel trapped. I know I do. I feel trapped within a reality where every week, every day, every moment, seems unknown. I go to bed every night and as I close my eyes, people all over the world are dying all around me. It’s as if we are all trapped on our own “ark” waiting for the flood to be over. Sounds tragic I know; but there was hope for Noah and there’s hope for us.
We don’t know how Noah and his family felt even after the flood was over. I’m going to assume though, that they had a wide variety of emotions they were dealing with after so much death and destruction occurred. We read about the rainbow and the dove, and we unintentionally place a nicely tied ribbon on the story without really pondering what happened next. I know I have been guilty of that.
As we start to come out of isolation ourselves, we are all well aware that things “going back to normal” is not realistic just as it wasn’t for Noah and his family after the flood. They had to create a new normal, and so do we. That image we have all had in our heads of Noah and his family standing on top of a hill with the ark in site, as they smile victoriously, is no more unrealistic than the idea that we are all going to come out of this pandemic feeling that same pictured victory. There will be lingering trauma, confusion, and hesitation. We don’t need to let it control us, but it’s important to understand.
We are going to need an olive leaf just as Noah did.
It’s easy to read stories like the Noah’s ark one, and miss the very real ways this applies to our lives today. For Noah’s family, I imagine there was this tension between remembering the tragic past while trying to look positively to the future. No where in scripture though, does it give us an idea of how they felt or behaved after the flood. What then can we actually take away from this story? What does this story have to do with ours?
The olive leaf entered at a part of the story where I am going to assume there was still a lot of grief happening for Noah’s family. We don’t know much about Noah, except that the scriptures say he was a “righteous man.” Even a righteous man can feel pain and question the future after so much disaster takes place.
The olive leaf wasn’t the end of the story, it was just the beginning. It wasn’t a sign that things were better; it was a sign that they would be. That’s what is beautiful about the story. This is not the part of the story when everything got easier. It’s the part of the story when God reminds us that there is always an olive leaf. There is always hope. Hope is not the end, it’s the beginning and anticipation of something new. We just have to be willing to send out the dove. We can’t have the olive leaf without the dove in this story; and we can’t have the peace we need in our lives without opening our hearts and hands to receive it.
Noah let the dove go, and was therefore given a very real sign of hope.
We are in a similar season as well; looking at the days ahead wondering what life is about to look like. Right now we could all use a sign of life becoming something new and beautiful. So what will it take for us to get there? Just as Noah in faith let the dove go, we need to release something of our own in order to fully accept the life that God is calling us into. Although Noah’s story is a literal example of this, I couldn’t help but notice the symbolism within it and how powerful of a message this can be right now.
So what is it?
What do you need to let go of in order to receive peace over your present circumstances?
This is a loaded question that I actually think has more meaning and significance than just looking at it in light of the flood, or in our situation the pandemic. We all have things that we continue to hold onto throughout our lives with clenched fists; all the while wondering why we can’t seem to fit peace into it all.
I know what that’s like.
Personally I need to continuously let go of my own pride. Thinking and acting like I can and should help everyone looks good on the surface to everyone else, but underneath it all I am filled with selfishness and entitlement. On the surface I look energetic and ready to help anyone, but on the inside I’m exhausted, desiring peace and rest. Convincing myself that other people need my help more than I need to help myself, because “my life is healthier than theirs”
… is not healthy.
That is not peace seeking; it is pride pursuing.
This is something I really wrestled with during this time of pause that the pandemic provided me. Sitting in such a vulnerable season challenged me to focus more on my own needs and mental health, and less on fixing everybody else’s. As we slowly continue coming out of this season, I need to continue letting this go. I need to let go of pride so that God can provide. I need to put it on the cross. Daily. Old unhealthy prideful habits, won’t produce a new healthy life giving peace. I need to give myself the space to learn and grow from this season as a way to experience real peace moving forward.
My name can mean various different things depending on where you look for the information. No matter how far you dig though, it is always brought back to the same meaning; olive tree.
“The olive tree is a very strong tree capable of withstanding stress more than other kinds of trees. This tree is quite distinctive and unique because it has certain characteristics that make it one of a kind, the olive tree is drought resistant in nature and it has a very hardy and strong structure that makes it spectacular. According to legends, it was believed that when the olive tree was destroyed and burnt into ashes, the tree sprouted back to an incredible height just within a day. If you see the olive tree this can be a sign that you are willing and ready to face all of your trouble and face life situations readily. This can also be a sign that no matter what you are going through or whatever you are experiencing at the moment you will be able to stay strong and fight to survive at all cost. The olive tree is also a sign of love, peace, and harmony.”
How can I ever live up to that? Most days I certainly don’t, but I want to. This gives more meaning to the olive leaf, as it is a product of strength and persistence in physical form within nature itself. What a beautiful picture. Leaves of peace throughout our lives gently joining together creating something even stronger. A tree.
Strength. Persistence. Perseverance.
Pandemic aside, we all have various other things happening within our hearts and lives right now that need this message of hope to give us strength. Whether you are waiting to overcome an inner battle, or wondering what is next “after the flood” in your life; this message of peace is an ongoing exchange available to all of us. It is a never ending gift that can effect our lives in a transformative way.
When we open our hearts and allow the Lord to touch the areas of frustration that are within us, we don’t always see change right away. When we walk out of a pandemic and say “Lord I release my fears and expectations”, life may still be difficult. Sometimes what we need to “let go”, is the desire to see change in order to fully find peace. We need to let go of the mindset that feelings of contentment are what always brings us peace. Peace is not a feeling, it’s a knowing – knowing that God will show up and resting in that promise.
Peace is a process.
God was with Daniel IN the lions den. He took the Israelites THROUGH the Red Sea. He was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego IN the fire. So you see… God doesn’t always take us up out of the storm, He stands with us in it. Just as a lighthouse is a beacon of light to guide ships out at sea, peace also comes as a light amidst the storm. Not after. Transformation doesn’t equal peace; peace equals transformation. That is not easy. It takes praying, waiting, and discipline to embrace that mindset. It’s worth it though. When we allow peace to truly penetrate our souls, we begin to see that peace changes our perspectives more than it depends on our circumstances.
So this is your friendly little olive tree reminding you that with the peace, promises, and power of Jesus, you can get through whatever you are facing. Yes you can. Within each and every one of our stories there is an olive leaf. So reach out your hand, release the dove, and wait for it.
Wait for the olive leaf.