This past week I was able to escape from the city to a friend’s acreage, and celebrate the actual, final coming of Spring. To break away from the noise, grime and garbage of the city, to feel the sun on your face without biting winds taking your breath away, was outrageously blissful. Planning had been in the works for a while to put down some solid, manual labor the moment snows were melted and it was dry enough. We had to hustle before things burst into bloom and the sap was running too freely. What I’m talking about here is the fine art of tree trimming. There’s a sculptor in me that springs to life when I contact a lot of materials, but skin touching vital, growing things is in a category by itself.
A tree, much like most other living things, subscribes to the impulse of rampant growth, grasping nutrients with survival tenacity that gulps for life. It doesn’t stop to consider optimal timings, direction, selection or any other factors that are not immediately, innately instinctual. Consequently, a lot of outgrowth is produced that does not benefit the tree’s overall existence. A proliferation of saplings can be found springing up at the base, diverting precious resources from larger branches further up the trunk. There’s lots of deadwood. Too many sprouts competing for a spot or growing twistedly in on one another in one spot inevitably stunts them all. There are diseased growths and injuries that need to be dealt with; varmint pests to be eliminated. That’s where the fine art of the prune comes in. Somebody has to go over these branches and edit. Direction of growth has to be shaped into the tree. When this happens with any kind of regularity, the life of a tree, bush, shrub or perennial is drastically increased. Funnily enough, so is the life of a person.
Right before the most dramatic and difficult severing of their lives, Jesus speaks long and hard to His disciples. He reassures them, addresses their fears, gives instruction, and then, enigmatically veers off into an interesting aside on the fine art of horticulture. What’s it all about?
“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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also 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.” John 15:1-4
I love to gear up, take my sharp secateurs in hand and lay down the cut with a vengeance. Edward Scissorhands, move over! But as I go at it with a blithe ruthlessness, there’s a part of me that’s asking the question: “If the Lord assessed me, and had His way with a hard crop, lop, cut and trim, what would happen? What changes would I see? Could I handle it? Where am I growing with too rampant and undisciplined a speed; too self-serving a motive? Where’s the deadwood located? How’s the general, overall condition of my life? Am I trimmed up and ship-shape, and emerging in the optimal direction, or do I require radical reshaping?
When we think about improving our lives, most of the time, we have a list of things we would like to add, to gain possession of. Unless we are in a painful relationship, our first thought for change is not ‘what should I get rid of?’ We prefer accumulation; extirpation, demolition or dissolution are not our quickest tools to hand. Most of us have really dull little internal scalpels. We’re spiritual hoarders. We don’t even know how to clean up and delete our own mental files, let alone the accumulated detritus of circumstances. Life deals many things that feel like an acute amputation; costly and painful if they are not handled correctly. We’ve been traumatized before, so we’re not eager for more. But without parings and partings, we can wake up one morning totally ensnared in a spiritual cul-de-sac we have absolutely no idea how to get out of. Jesus assures us…life needs pruning. The excellent part of His perspective on the process is that it’s not being done by some reckless idiot, but a loving and highly skillful husbandman: Abba, Himself.
When we stop and consider the immense and mysterious talent pool of our lives, it dawns on us that Abba has planted enough genetic clout within to fill up ten lifetimes, not just one. You are loaded with gifts, talents, beauties, benefits and even genius it would be impossible for one lifetime alone to fulfill. That’s the heart of your Father. You’ve got blessings coming out of the yin-yang. You need direction. You need help. Without the Lord husbanding time and focus, humans can flourish with so rampant an outgrowth we exhaust ourselves. We require balance between productivity and passivity, dormancy and delivery, proliferation and severe edit. In nature, this is built in the seasons, but people have a will of their own that can override the profound wisdom of primordial rhythms. This is where the Divine comes in.
As we get older, we run out of steam. We don’t want to be moving in twenty directions at once. We garner time and energy. We appreciate the wonderful, vintage product of a vine expertly managed. We drink deeply of life’s wine and enjoy it more. That’s a promise from Scripture as well.
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, to show that the Lord is upright… Psalm 92:12-14
Hold still, Beloved, for the touch of the Master’s hand.