Pruning is another winter work. A tree’s dormancy strips the thing to bony nakedness, fruitless, lifeless, ugly. A tree in winter is useless and unsightly. But it has this one advantage: you can cut the wood deep, right back to the trunk if you must, and the tree will survive. If done right, the tree will be better off come springtime: stronger, shapelier, more vigorous. Above all, more fruitful.
Jesus told His disciples that a loving, abiding, fruit-bearing relationship with Him means that there will be times of prunin. “I am 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 more fruitful” (John 151-2).
Pruning initially makes the tree — or vine, to use Christ’s metaphor — more unsightly. It makes the dead look deader, if that’s possible. When I do heavy pruning on my trees, usually in January or February, my children accuse me of ecological barbarity. That morning, the cherry tree reached its tangled barren limbs skyward in silent supplication, as though beckoning the sun’s return. By afternoon, I have reduced it to shoulder stumps, and a few truncated arms, a parody of its former self. The thick lattice of its many branches are gathered beneath it, mere bramble for the burn pile.
“Why did you destroy the tree? my daughter Nicola, ten at the time, asks.
“Just watch,” I say.
“For how long?” she asks.
“You have to remember to come back later. This will take a little while.”
One year, when my other daughter, Sarah, was thirteen, she claimed that I had maimed a tree so grievously that, even if it lived, it would forever be marred. I claimed it would be healthier and more beautiful than ever before. She betme — an ice cream cone, I think — that I was wrong and she was right.
Here’s the practical side to this. Winter is when you submit to the vinedresser’s pruning shears. Winter’s not for adding things but for cutting things. It’s the best season, the safest one, actually, to look at all the tangled branches in your life — the travel, the committee work, the various projects, the diversions; or the ingrown marl of things, the lists in your head of people and situations to worry about, the proliferation of responsibilities that aren’t really yours — and ask honestly if these are bearing fruit or just sapping energy. And then, without apology or even caution, cut to nothing all that which gives nothing.
Winter is when, it seems, God deprives us of much more than He bestows. But each deprivation is really cultivation. It’s a maiming that really is a sculpting, a depletion that becomes a source of abundance. Again, I think of Cheryl during Carol’s illness and then her death. Cheryl, going into that season, had accumulated a sprawling mass of responsibilities, anxieties, duties, pursuits. She was leading ministries, running a household, mentoring women, raising children, taking courses, sitting on committees, chairing meetings, sewing bridesmaid dresses for all and sundry, and many other things besides, and to all that she added caring for a dying friend. It was too much. So as both an act of submission and an active discipline, she cut back virtually everything, save the household duties and the caregiving. For the season of winter, she cut everything else. That produced, a few years after, a remarkable flourishing. But more of that later.
The apostle Paul went through his own Psalm 88 experience, and a season of barrenness and pruning. He describes it this way: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death“ (2 Corinthians 1:8 TNIV).
But look how Paul continues: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10).
Paul goes on, in 2 Corinthians 4, to disclose the full value of his winter of the heart: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly are being renewed each day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal“ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 TNIV).
The maiming became sculpting. The pairing back gave way to a vigorous flourishing.
I’m wondering what this means for you. If you are in winter, there may be, hidden in its bleakness, a rare opportunity. You may be able to lose some weight: the weight of unneeded responsibility, the burden of useless activity. It may be the season to say an unapologetic no to the things to which, recently or long ago, you said a hardy or unenthusiastic yes. I’m not advocating irresponsibility. But I am advocating simplicity. I’m saying that this may be the one shot you have at becoming less so that, in time, Christ’s fruit in you might become greater.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
Originally, when I read this book I thought the author (Mark Buchanan) and I had a kind of kinship, especially this part. Since it seemed like all my preparation to become a youth pastor (four years of dedication to become one of the top notch youth pastors * not for my glory but for His *), just seemed like a distant past even though it was some weeks had just passed by (see The Heart In Winter). While most other adolescents were having a tuff time figuring out who they want to be, this is the beginning of this thing we call hormones start raging through our bodies getting upset at anything it seems, having periods of happiness that extend weeks on end, etc, it is like that for most teenagers. It is like a big biplolar mess. However, I did not experience that as much because I had a higher purpose put on me; you can say it was God set me out among my peers to go through a “calling,” but I didn’t know to what. I recently finished reading The Cross and The Switchblade by David Wilkerson. It is a very powerful story about the beginnings of Teen Challenge. I thought God was “calling” me to be a youth pastor, so I prepared as such for the next four years until, shortly after my eighteenth birthday (when you are a legal adult * Running With Christ – if you want the real story behind my miracle *), God had a surprise waiting for me to experience, that brought me closer to him than just about anyone.
True, I spent the majority of my adolescent years battling some of the things I listed under what I call an extended bipolar mess, but I also had that “calling” in which I thought that God was “calling” me to a lifetime of youth ministry. Yet, at the age of eighteen is supposed to mark your independence here in the United States of America where your free to do just about anything you want (within reason), shortly after my eighteenth birthday I became totally reliant on God. With slightly over thirty years that God had to do something radical, I can tell you that pruning does hurt for I come back to the verses,
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10 TNIV).
I have spent a little over twenty-five years as an advocate to people with varying kinds of disabilities, caregivers, family, and friends. These are the commonly overlooked in any society. My “calling” is to help those with disabilities, their caregivers, their friends and family realize that they need God too (I am defining disabilities as those who have a rough time or cannot do at all the things that “normal” people take for granted). That is my main “calling.” It took me quite a few years to define it as such; great thing is God is on no such time table..
What about you? Is there such a thing that God is pruning out of your life? It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as my story is, yet yours could be even more dramatic or the same intensity level. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT ON THIS POST.
“How Do You Measure Your Spiritual Growth?” ~ Mark Buchanan
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~