It is pruning time again here in Idaho. My fruit trees have all sorts of new growth, and from my seat here at my computer I can already see that many of the branches will be fruitless.
We bought our first house in February two years ago. I was excited to live in a house again and to be a landowner for the first time.
Our house is small, but it has a generous backyard. Surveying the yard in early March, I came to the conclusion that everything in the garden was sick and needed to be removed. Thankfully, we did nothing right away.
One day a neighbor spotted me in the back garden and started telling me what the plants were. That hideous, diseased-looking hedge? Lilacs. Those strange wooden boards I kept tripping over? Raised beds for vegetables. And the dwarfed, gnarled trees? An apple and a pear tree.
“They need pruned,” my neighbor said.
So I got a book about fruit trees and set about snipping off newly budded branches. With each snip, I felt a twinge of remorse. This can’t possibly be good for the tree, I thought. After I was finished, the ground was covered with twigs and sticks. I’ve killed them, I mourned gloomily.
Yet through the spring and summer, the trees only improved in appearance. Pests unfortunately ruined the apples and the pear tree only produced three pears. My husband and I came to the conclusion that we had vastly under-pruned and that some pest-control was in order.
The next spring, another neighbor came over and helped us. “You want to cut off anything that grows straight up,” he informed us. “Those are water sprouts. They’ll never bear any fruit.”
So the trees were again subjected to the blades of the pruning shears. I still felt sad cutting into the tender flesh of the trees, but this time I pruned with greater confidence, because I knew that this cutting would lead to a better harvest and a healthier tree.
Last fall we had a bumper crop of apples and pears. We ate them fresh, and I learned to can the remainder of the fruit. My husband and I were jubilant with our horticultural triumph. My mind could not help but turn to the words of Jesus in John 15:
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 … This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-2, 8)
I seem to forget that the fruit of the Spirit comes not instantly or easily, but over a long course of time and often through circumstances of pain. Christian writers have often noted the correlation between spiritual growth and difficulties. Yet as soon as my back is against the wall, I think God has forgotten me, or turned against me, or worst of all, doesn’t even exist. But God is the master-gardener and His experienced eyes see the parts of my life that will sap my strength, cause me harm, and ultimately be fruitless. He works to remove those things from my life early—nipping them in the bud, so to speak. I lack the perspective to see what is happening and think only of the pain. As the writer of Hebrews says:
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11
Here we are introduced to another metaphor, one that is more familiar than gardening in these days: parenting. As I discipline my two children, it pains me to do things that they don’t like. Yet I have the ability to see further ahead in life then they can; it is my duty to help train and prune them into healthy, fruitful people. If I love them, I will do this despite the pain it causes them and me today. Having children has given me an entirely different perspective on God’s heart towards me. I have an understanding of how you can love someone so much that his pain becomes your pain, and yet still you inflict that pain because to leave it undone is by far the more destructive path.
How kind the Lord is to give these concrete examples. I have enough trouble understanding the pain and difficulty that come into my life. I can’t imagine how much dimmer my understanding would be without these pictures. In the midst of trials and difficulties, I can remember the picture of the good gardener or the loving father and look forward in full faith for the rich harvest of righteousness to come.
Soon I will be wielding the clippers again. I know I will feel a touch of sadness subjecting those tender growing trees to the harsh blades, but I also feel the happy expectation of the beautiful leaves and nourishing fruit to come.