Earlier this week I glanced out of my study window regularly to watch my husband prune our bay tree. He was determined to rein in the unruly growth that had happened over previous months and went to a huge effort utilising various gardening tools, and climbing up ladders as well as standing on low-level roofing in order to achieve his goal.
The finish looks really professional now – we have a great-looking tree with a lovely shape, and our neighbour will be pleased as it will no longer be casting shade onto her conservatory. However, the process looked incredibly painful – huge branches more than two metres long cut off and discarded – the lawn was littered with the debris after he had finished cutting. The clear-up effort was huge too. After booking slots at our local waste and recycling centre, my husband needed help to get the cut branches and leaves cleaned off our lawn, placed into four-tonne bags and loaded into the car. It was hard work, but worth it to see the finished result.
The whole process reminded me of how it feels when we are going through a time of pruning ourselves. John 15 paints the highly visual picture of Jesus being the vine and God being the gardener who regularly prunes the branches: 'He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful' (v3). We can fight against the whole process of pruning, forgetting that there is a purpose behind it – to make us more fruitful.
As someone going through an intense time of pruning currently, I found it really helpful to look at the reasons why gardeners prune and what the benefits are.
Pruning removes selected branches, and cuts back others, in order to improve the structure, remove dead or unwanted elements and to direct and promote new, healthy growth. It helps train the plant and gives it good foundations for long-term health. Those are all great reasons for us to be pruned too – if only it wasn't so painful!
I found it interesting to ponder the different types of pruning too, and found parallels between some of them and the pruning God does in our lives:
Reducing the density of branches to allow for more light
Our lives can easily get clogged up by 'stuff' – all seemingly important, but nevertheless which can block out God's light from the very places we need it most. God has no qualms about pinpointing and cutting back (or prompting us to cut back) on those things that have been allowed to take over and get out of hand in our lives (even very good things).
Maintaining overall health
Just like we need to look after our physical bodies, the rest of our lives need care and fine-tuning. If we allow areas to become unkempt, they will affect the rest of us. God knows this – interestingly the Greek for prune in John 15 means 'to cleanse' and that is what we need regularly in order to stay healthy. God is showing us great care when he prunes us.
These are done to improve a plant's overall structure and shape and to promote long-term health. Often this can be the most painful pruning because, although it is strategic, we don't understand why God is suddenly cutting back an area of our lives that we thought was going well and that we felt we were being fruitful in. But we don't have the same perspective as him; it may be we need to cut back in an area in order for us to be able to grow elsewhere. It could be that while an area is growing, it is weak growth, and God is cutting in order to stimulate strong growth. He may be reshaping us in order for us to fit well into his future plans for us.
While pruning certainly is painful, we can trust the gardener and understand that he goes to such lengths because he loves us and wants the best for us. When we allow ourselves to be trained, cut back and shaped as God intends, not only ourselves but those around us – and even future generations – reap the benefits.
Claire Musters is a writer, speaker and editor who blogs at clairemusters.com. Her most recent books are Every Day Insights: Disappointment and Loss and Grace-Filled Marriage. The latter was written with her husband, and they have provided a series of free videos to accompany the book, which can be accessed on the Big Church Read website. Claire also writes and edits for Premier Woman Alive and Christianity magazines.