Last month, Helen Murray wrote about how she enjoys collecting pine cones. This resonated with me, as a couple of days previously I had parked under a huge horse-chestnut tree and opened my car door to find the ground littered with conkers. Mahogany shells gleamed at me from spiny green cases as they nestled – half-buried – beneath yellowing autumn leaves.
There’s something irresistibly appealing about freshly fallen conkers: I love the richness of their colouring and the silkiness of their shells. They remind me of misty autumn mornings melting into mellow sunshine, and how – when my children were small – kicking up leaves in the park in the hope of finding autumnal treasure was a great way to pass a couple of hours.
I gave in to temptation, even though my children are all grown-up now. I gathered a couple of dozen conkers, and put them in the side-pocket of my car door, fully intending to display them in a glass bowl when I got home.
So, guess where they are now? Yep, that’s right: five weeks later, they’re still in the door of my car. I promise myself most days that when I get home, I’ll do something with them, but there’s always something else to think about. And having been festering in my car for more than a month, they’re starting to look a little the worse for wear. Their luscious colours have faded to a dull, sludge-like brown. The shells that felt so satisfyingly smooth initially have shrivelled and wrinkled, and a couple of them are tinged with a white bloom. My plans for an autumnal display will have to wait till next year.
Here’s the thing about conkers: they’re lovely to look at – and to touch – when they first fall from the tree, but they’re not intended simply for interior decoration purposes. A conker that sits in a bowl on my kitchen table will look good for a short while, but sooner or later will fade, shrink and become useless. Conkers are meant to rest undisturbed on the ground so that they can rot and be absorbed into the earth for a while before – eventually – sprouting into a new tree and producing fruit themselves.
Shortly before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus reminded his disciples that a seed can only produce other seeds if it first falls to the ground and dies (John 12: 24). It’s one of those statements we prefer to gloss over: we like the idea of being fruitful, but the stuff that comes prior to that sounds a tad unpleasant. Maybe we need to remember that – in God’s economy – the real growth comes not when we are looking our best, but when we allow ourselves to be buried and broken.
Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013 and blogs at www.fjlloyd.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.