Pruning and the Amateur Gardner

Dear friend,

It is a glorious March day here in Northern Indiana–a day when my thoughts turn toward the garden. I wrote this last fall and thought I’d share it with you today. Happy Friday!

It was a beautiful day. The leaves were turning, there was a slight bite to the air, the sun was bright in the clear sky. I had finished my workout and had cleaned the kitchen. (Things I don’t enjoy doing but really like having done—past tense.) I even had time to read my Bible that morning. I was feeling contentedly pious. I went to pick up my sons from preschool with rosy thoughts of them rushing to give me big hugs and tell me all about school. Then we’d go home giggling and have a wonderful lunch together.

Reality set in when the whining started. “Mooo-oooom! I don’t like this jacket. Mooo-oooom! I didn’t have my homework today. Moooo-ooooom, let’s go out for lunch. I don’t want to eat your food.” Then the arguing: “He touched me! Hey, that’s my toy! OUCH….Mooooooooooooooooom!” And the golden bubble burst. And suddenly I was no longer floating in a dreamworld of joy, I was plodding through existence like Sisyphus, the boulder of mother-responsibility laying heavy on my shoulders.

It’s amazing to me how quickly those emotional highs plunge.

By the time we reached home I was a snarling mess. Pulling up to the house, I decided it was high time someone took care of that overgrown bush in front of the house. In frustration, I grabbed the loppers and the trimmer and began hacking away at the defenseless shrub, and grousing with every nip. “Ungrateful children! I was having such a great day! Why can’t they just be kind and agreeable?”

Eventually my fuse burned out. Just as I was about to take another snip, I looked and beheld the damage I’d done. Where a perfectly lovely shrub had stood, there was this strange, half-dead clump of a bush. My temper-driven attempts at pruning had revealed an ugly, dried up mess just under the surface of lush evergreen branches.

I sighed. Put down the loppers. And went inside to make lunch.

Through the afternoon the verses from John 15 that we’d read in Bible study that week played through my mind. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (vv 1-2)

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Staring at my mess of a shrub a couple thoughts came to me:

First, I am so glad, SO GLAD, our Heavenly Father, the Gardener, has more patience than I do. I am so grateful that in His mercy he doesn’t prune me in anger—even when I deserve it.

Secondly, according to Jesus’ words here, pruning is for every believer. Not just those who are on the outside circle, not just for those who have a few bad habits they need to submit to the Lord. No, pruning is necessary to the health of the believer. Pruning is necessary to the health of Church! “EVERY branch that does bear fruit [believers who are doing the work of the Lord] he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (v. 2). This never really hit me before. I had never really considered that pruning in our spiritual life is as vital as it is in my garden. Even as an amateur, I know my roses will not bloom profusely if I just let them go. They need perpetual pruning to keep them healthy.

Spiritually speaking, like the shrub I’d hacked away at, I might look good on the outside. I might give every appearance of vibrant health. But under that bright exterior, there is deadly thinking. The kind of thinking that my natural self likes to hang on to. The kind of thinking that sets me on a course of self-centeredness and eventual destruction. Paul talks about the earthly nature being at war with heavenly wisdom:“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 7:17).

My natural self defaults to earthly wisdom: my rights, my way, my comfort, my standards, me, me, me. Heavenly wisdom tells me to love my enemy–whether or not my enemy loves me in return. Heavenly wisdom tells me to put others first–without expecting a recognition or a pat on the back. Heavenly wisdom tells me that God alone sets the standard for what is right and good—not me. Heavenly wisdom tells me to lay down my life, lay down my self-imposed (and world-imposed) burdens and expectations, and be at peace, yoked to Christ.

And so He prunes away my good deeds. He prunes away my self-aggrandizing dreams. He prunes away my to-do lists, my opinions, my ideals and reveals dried up branches. He tosses those prunings into the fire and says to my trembling naked spirit, Come. “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Vv 3-4).

He will bear the fruit. I need only to rest in HIM. To “Abide” in him another translation says. With my cooperation, He will bear great fruit. The Light of Jesus, the water of the Holy Spirit, the tender ministrations of our Gardener Father, cultivates abundant, lasting fruit—and none of it by our own doing.

My rosy ideals of my children? Not bad dreams. But I must keep them in context with reality. God will work in my boys as He is working in me. But hanging onto the pre-written scripts that I’ve assigned my pre-literate preschoolers? Not beneficial. Snip. Impatience? Not Christ-honoring. Snip. Momma-sized temper tantrums? Not edifying. Snip snip. Learning to love the Gardener’s touch? Seeking Him when it hurts? Yes! Now THAT is growth!

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