When I was a kid, we had a random peach tree near the front of our very big backyard. It provided a boundary marker for kickball, a visual distraction from the beaten down garage behind it, and delicious fruit for pies made by my neighbor. Periodically my dad would decide that it needed pruning, and he would hack away at it until it was near death. We would all hold our breath, shocked at the carnage. Then a year or two later, the tree would bounce back, better than ever.
Memories of trees, bushes, and various flora around our property surviving my father’s aggressive pruning technique have become a family joke as I encourage my dad to keep his paws off my landscaping when visiting and looking for a “fun project” to tackle.
Despite my trepidation, a few falls ago I allowed my parents to cut back my hydrangeas, which looked as though they were on a mission to take over one corner of my yard. It was a tough decision because I had grown fond of the gorgeous flowers they produced, but those flowers were tough to enjoy when they were attached to crazy bushes that were threatening to choke out the entire area.
The next summer the bushes didn’t produce a single flower. “I knew I shouldn’t have let them touch my beautiful bushes…” I muttered under my breath as I stared at a green mass of nothingness outside my dining room.
But then the next summer arrived…
It turned out that all those crazy, disorganized hydrangeas needed was a good pruning followed by a season of recovery. Following this process, they returned stronger and more beautiful than ever.
By now you’ve figured out that this isn’t so much a story about gardening as it is a metaphor for personal growth. I love a good metaphor, am a sucker for a solid analogy, and lean heavily on the word of God.
There is much made of the idea of fruitfulness in the Christian world with the phrase “bearing fruit” solidly at home in the Christianese lexicon. Check out the 10 second mark here:
So early in 2015 when I underwent what felt like an inappropriately harsh snip and clip in my life, I wondered – sometimes angrily – why God would allow such severe treatment when I was bearing fruit for Him. Wasn’t that the hope for His disciples? My own personal pruning involved removing me from service in my church and leaving my job as worship director, two aspects of my life that had honestly come to define my life, at least if you took a look at my daily calendar and to-do list. I turned to John 15 for comfort. I mean, confirmation. You know, confirmation that I was right.
BAM! There it was. I had rearranged my entire life around serving God and bearing fruit as His disciple, building His kingdom instead of mine, and some overzealous man with a sheers had come along and cut my service short.
Then God did what He often does when I’m poking around in His word. He moved my eyes from column two of page 962 in my New International Version Bible to column one of page 962. Right there in John 15 is this truth:
Every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Like the out of control hydrangeas that needed to be clipped back to allow for more abundant flowering in the future, maybe my spiritual life and work needed to be scaled down and allowed a season of rest and recovery in order to produce greater fruit.
2015 turned out to be a transformative year for me – me the person rather than me the writer, the worker, the musician, the servant – and while the pruning process was often painful and rarely easy, it was wholly transformative. I have enjoyed this season of recovery, understanding that it is just that, a season. And when my season of producing fruit returns, I trust that there will be abundance beyond my imagination, joining my new found peace that transcends my understanding.
Prologue: My dad eventually killed that awesome peach tree. Legend has it that, no longer satisfied with a pruning sheers, he upgraded to a pesticide. And the rest, as they say, is history. R.I.P., yummy peaches.