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Joining up with L.L. Barkat at seedlingsinstone today,

even though it’s Wednesday and NOT Monday.
It’s been that kind of week.

And also with Suzannah at somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter
so much shouting, so much  laughter

We lost an old friend recently – a 60 year old oak tree toppled over into our driveway two weeks ago. Just like that, down on the ground.

So we hired our friendly neighborhood tree-trimming guy to come in and make it into firewood – and at the same time, open up our driveway again.

While he was at it, we thought… why not clean up a lot of stuff around this wonderful yard of ours, trees and shrubs that have long needed thinning, chopping, even removal here and there?

So…he and his crew and all their very large, very noisy equipment have been hanging around our house for the better part of this week – cleaning, sorting, hauling, pureeing, grinding out stumps. It’s been a busy, noisy place.

And all of it has caused me to think about the whole idea of pruning. Heard a sermon on it a couple of weeks ago – a good sermon, in which we were reminded that God is the one who prunes. It’s not up to us to prune one another – much as we might be tempted to do so. Ouch. My natural tendency is SO geared toward pointing those shears in someone else’s direction.

The idea of pruning comes from that whole crazy chapter in John where Jesus tells us (over and over again) that we’ve got to be connected to the vine. Abide. Remain. Stay deeply and securely connected to the source of life. Allow the full and free flow of the nourishing sap that can only come to us from the deeply-rooted love of our Savior.

And part of abiding means that we will be pruned. For way too many years I thought that meant suffering enormous loss of some kind, giving up the things or people we loved – in essence turning God-the vineyard-keeper into a mean-spirited monster.

But think for a minute about what happens when we prune a plant: we look for the suckers, the crooked branches, the non-productive stems and we cut them away. Why? Because we want to see beauty. We want to see fruitfulness, full blooms, lovely shapes, strong and supple limbs, impervious to the winds and the water.

That’s what God’s pruning is about. Yes, all of us will suffer in this life. But it won’t be at the direct hand of God, teaching us ‘a lesson’ of some sort. I no longer believe that pruning is about suffering for suffering’s sake. Try this idea and let it roll around in your heart for a while: pruning helps to reveal the beauty inside of us, the shape of Jesus in us, the fruit of the Spirit, the sturdiness of a planted faith. Pruning is a gift of grace, a preparation for what comes next, a shaping and forming kind of work.

It may initially feel somewhat painful – like the pain that comes from using our bodies to work hard, to exercise, to stretch. It may involve the dawning realization that there are things in our lives that have to go – appointments, commitments, busyness of different kinds. It will definitely mean setting priorities, learning what our ‘yeses’ truly are so that we can say ‘no’ when we need to say ‘no.’

And that is so hard to do, isn’t it? Listening to the Spirit’s nudge, carving out small oases of time to sit in God’s presence, asking for eyes to see the presence of the holy in the very ordinary details of our days – all of that means pruning away some good things to make room for the ‘better part.’

So, as the trimming crew moves into the final phase of their work tomorrow, I want to remember that this is good work. Pruning is a good thing, a helpful thing. A cleaning-up, clearing-out, shaping and beautifying thing. Do your work in me, Lord God. Prune what needs pruning and shape me more and more into the image of your son.

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  1. “pruning is a gift of grace.” yes, absolutely.

    i’m reading a wonderful lenten devotional you might like, called The Bread and The Wine. it’s been about suffering a bit, and how there is not glory in suffering for its own sake, but God will refine us and use it all for his glory–if we let him. he’ll reveal the beauty, transforming the darkness.