Though painful, there’s a purpose to God’s pruning.
It wasn’t necessarily a day one would choose to take a walk outdoors in Colorado. It was grey, cloudy and drizzly. It matched the way that I was feeling. I was weary after what felt like a never-ending, tumultuous week of work. When I arrived home I thought I’d find some time to relax and stroll through my back garden. Life for me during that time was one of transition, change and uncertainty. In August, we had packed up our youngest daughter and sent her a thousand miles away to college. She’s a pretty quiet gal but she brought a lot of life, faith and love to our home. She would play piano and sing for hours on end.
Now it was quiet. Our nest was getting empty. Both of our girls were in college and well on their way to following the lives God would have for them. My greatest hope was and still is that they would walk with Jesus. So I was thinking of and praying this verse for them as my heart was releasing them: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).
I was also feeling the weight of a marriage that was struggling to be. I was not sure that I still knew this man that I have been in love with for 35 years. Honestly, I was not sure I even fully knew myself. Our marriage had suffered some bruises over the last 10 years. We’d both lost a parent to long, cruel illnesses. Our remaining parents were dealing with huge trials of their own. Add all of the busy life stuff that you do with teens, and it hadn’t left much time for the two of us. We needed to find the new normal that God was going to have for us.
There were so many emotions, worries and doubts in my mind that the only possible place I could go was to my Father in prayer. Only he could restore what was broken. Only he could repair what was neglected. Only he could give peace to a heart that was breaking.
I was walking down the flagstone path through the evergreens deep in thought when I noticed something unusual about some American cranberry bushes that my husband and I had planted 13 years ago. They were covered with beautiful little crimson berries! This was the first time they had ever produced fruit. It had been so long, I had forgotten that they were even supposed to have berries.
I was so happy about this development because not too long ago I was sure they were dead. We had an early freeze in the fall of 2014 that killed countless trees and plants. It looked like those bushes were soon to be mulched along with the rest of the dead trees and shrubs. That spring I started cutting away the dead stalks and branches. At the heart of those bushes remained a couple of shoots with green buds on them. Life! Deep in the heart of them there was still life. Once all of the dead wood was stripped away, the remaining branches, tender and pliable, drooped toward the ground. I trimmed them so that they could support the leaves that would be breaking out and adding weight that they may not have been able to otherwise hold up. I didn’t have much hope for those pathetic plants. There wasn’t much left of them. I was pretty sure I’d be tearing out what remained of them at the end of the summer. I soon saw that I was wrong! They started sending up new shoots. They were flourishing. They were full, lush and stronger than before. And now here they were, full of fruit.
My bushes reminded me of a picture that Jesus painted of our lives as his redeemed in John 15:1-5:
I am the true vine, and my father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Like my tenacious little vines, we should let our roots go deep. Remain steadfast. Drink deeply of the living water of his Word. When, not if, but when God cuts away the dead wood in our lives, our hearts can be exposed and bowed down before him. This is the image I see of God our Father, wincing as he prunes our branches, knowing that it’s for our good. Hoping that through it we will grow even more beautiful lives that produce more fruit.
I was encouraged by God in the quiet of that day in the garden. I knew that my family’s roots were planted in the soil of his grace and watered with his shed blood. Just like my little cranberry bushes, we will live on for his joy. It’s as if he whispered to me that day. “Do you see how these bushes are full, alive and growing? You worked hard, planted, tended, grieved, pruned, watched, waited and now you see the fruit. This joy that you are feeling is my gift to you. I want you to know how I feel when I see you growing, thriving and producing fruit in your life. Isn’t it beautiful? Be encouraged in your waiting and change. I have good for you there. I have many more plans for you.”
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!