Suddenly in the last two weeks, I have become an avid gardener. When we moved into our house a little over two years ago – in the winter – I was overjoyed at the large trees and landscaping in almost every place possible in our yard. Having come from a neighborhood on the edge of the suburbs, we were used to very small trees about the size of a branch sticking up out of the ground and a little bit of landscape that we just needed to spray once in a while with a hose.
Apparently we weren’t very good with even our one small tree. While we were out of town for the weekend, a neighbor messaged us to inform us that in a big gust of wind, the top of our tree broke off and rolled away like a tumbleweed and planted itself in a neighbor’s yard disguising itself as a bush. I mourned that little tree with five years of growth. It had just passed the first story of our house and in that fateful gust away blew our tree. Well, the top of it. We got home and sure enough, there stood the little naked trunk, tall slender and proud, with nothing on top. Not one leaf or branch. Just a stick. It resembled a totem pole.
After moving into our new house, we waited in quiet anticipation for spring when all of the beautiful landscape would come to life. We waited and waited looking out the window expectantly. That day never came. The neighbor’s landscape was spilling forth color and ours stayed brown and dead.
The work began to take out the dead landscape. John pulled dead bushes out with his truck while I yelled over the roar of the engine that he was going to end up in the neighbor’s pool. Neighbors looked nervously out the window waiting for the inevitable to happen. “Myrtle, look at these new neighbors here! They’re do-it-yourselfers! I hope they know what they’re doing!” While we busied ourselves with yardwork, neighbors came out to ‘do their yardwork’ too. I noticed many nervous sideways glances while I wrung my hands nervously imagining what it would take to tow a truck out of a pool and make ammends for what I saw as the inevitable. The neighbor next door sheepishly walked over and said, “I kind of need my bush out too?” That made me feel a little better at least. At least we came across like we knew what we were doing.
Anyway, in the dead bush’s place we planted rose bushes everywhere and they looked amazing with roses blooming everywhere. I never really paid attention to them and assumed I would do what I needed to do and make sure they got water every once in a while and they would do what they were supposed to do – bloom. That worked great for a while.
A couple of weeks ago, family came over and I brought may sister-in-law out to look at the different things growing in the landscape and said, “Oh, you will really love the roses. Let’s go look.” I walked proudly into the center of the rose bushes and said, “See?” She looked around politely and said, “Umm yeah.” I continued on matter of factly, “I guess they’re not blooming right now. It’s that time of year. This happened last year too around this time.” She looked like she wanted to say something and then cautiously said, “Maybe they need to be pruned?” “Pruned?” I thought. “These are the bush kind of roses that you water sometimes.” She continued, “In Iran (that’s where she is from) we cut them and things, but maybe we do it differently there?” Knowing she really was just thinking that I didn’t know what I was doing, I replied, “No, I don’t know what I’m doing I guess. Show me.”
She proceeded to spend the next hour pruning dead flowers, leaves and branches. She ended with, “Now don’t tell John (my husband) I did this until we see how it turns out in a week.” Within a week, there were beautiful roses everywhere and many more coming. For the past week, I have checked daily for dead leaves and flowers and the rose bushes are full. I stood proudly as a neighbor walked past and said, “Your landscape is BEAUTIFUL!” I felt pretty spectacular in my new gardening gloves with my shears. “Thanks!” I proudly called out feeling like a real gardener. It is amazing what a little pruning does.
As I’ve been spending time weeding out the dead and broken branches and removing the spent flowers, I cannot help but think of how closely this relates to our relationship with God. So many times, we wonder why we’re not growing or producing fruit, but what we don’t realize is that we have many unpruned places in our lives.
We have the overgrowth of wasted time or too many activities. Pruning makes much needed space in the rose bush for the air flow that helps it have the health it needs to be productive. Without it, the inner part of the bush becomes overgrown and diseased. It loses the strength it needs to bear roses. We all know we need to ‘trust in God’, but when we don’t allow time in our lives for that intimacy with Him, we really are not trusting in Him functionally at all. Much like the rose, we need space in our inner lives. We need the space in our lives to be intimate with Him and we desperately need Him to clear out the clutter of our hearts – heal the hurts, calm the fears, change our thoughts to match His. It is in these quiet and intimate places where He speaks and clears out the clutter of wrong thinking, places of brokenness and sin and other things that cause disease in our soul. Disease in our souls always results in burnout, exhaustion and deadness within.
Isaiah 40:31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
We have the bugs of bitterness, unforgiveness, cynicism, disappointment and unhealed places that have begun to gnaw away at the healthy leaves or the inner life that is necessary for healthy flowers to grow. In a rose bush, the leaves that have been ravaged by bugs must be cut to prevent the spread of more bugs. They don’t destroy the plant outright, but if too many leaves become full of bugs, the plant will die. Much like the bugs on the plant, when we find ourselves becoming more negative, lifeless, unforgiving and bitter, we will no longer see fruitfulness in our lives. Instead we will begin to become more deadened, have a harder time hearing from God and no longer enjoy our life with Him. His grace for us is what enables Him to work out those heart issues, but we cannot walk in that and hang onto the bitterness and cynicism that so easily creeps in.
Hebrews 12:15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
We hang onto the dead and fading flowers and wonder why there are no new buds. Sometimes, we direct our resources to so many things that we can’t do what is important well. Simply put, we can’t hang onto everything in every season. It is very important to cut the dead and fading flowers so that the plant can give its full attention to the new bud that is growing. If too many old flowers are left, the new buds suffer or do not grow at all. The bush simply cannot hang onto old flowers and produce new flowers well. Letting go of things that were good and beautiful in our lives in one season is sometimes necessary to do the new things in our lives in the current season well.
When my kids were young, I hosted a mom’s group and it was amazing to me how much life it brought to me and the other moms in the group as well. The memories of that group are some of my favorites. As my kids grew a little older, I could see that I no longer was in the season to be able to do the moms group well anymore because it was taking time away from where I was needed in other areas. Like a fading flower, it needed to be carefully cut and given to another who was able to put her resources into it.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
I have learned so much through this process of pruning. God doesn’t just turn a hose on us and hope we’re fine, but carefully orchestrates our lives to know Him more. As we trust Him and what He is doing, He will carefully, lovingly and systematically take out what needs to be removed and show us what it is that He has for us in this season. If we haven’t seen any growth in a while, it may not be the time of year or the season we’re in – we may need some pruning.
Father, We trust Your hand in our lives and know that You know all things. Thank You that I can trust You with my life. Help me to be sensitive to what You’re doing and not hang onto those things that You are trying to remove from Me. I choose to give you all of my fears, bitterness and my hopes and dreams. I know that You have good things in store for me and thank You that You see all things.