July — here, in the Southern Hemisphere, the second month of winter. In southern Australia, this means just-above freezing temperatures, rain, rain, and more rain. It also means pruning season. We’ve inherited several fruit trees and herbs in our garden, and we are learning how to care for them. My husband uses the pruning shears with confidence, while I cringe every time he marks a plant for pruning. Each time a branch is trimmed, I worry that growth will stop, that the plant will be permanently wounded. To me, pruning seems counterintuitive — how can cutting back branches possibly do good? I have seen enough of the result to calm my fears: his pruning only produces more vigorous growth, and the plants flourish.
Before we moved overseas, I felt alive and flourishing. I had a job that I loved. I had a close circle of friends in which I felt significance. I had roles of service in our church, roles that I loved and poured my heart into. With joy, I identified as a friend, daughter, sister, aunt, professor, Bible study leader, body life committee member, soup kitchen chef.
And then, when we moved, I suddenly felt stripped bare, like a pruned tree newly transplanted. My full branches and treasured blossoms were trimmed until I was little more than a stem with several short stubs. Most of the roles I had played were no longer an option, and I floundered. After all those roles were taken away, who was I?
In God’s grace, I stumbled across this metaphor of pruning and roles in a book I read last year called An Unhurried Life by Alan Fadling. In this book, Fadling speaks of the way that God prunes his people through loss. Loss may take many shapes — for me, it was the loss of my identity in what I did. Fadling writes, “And what is the aim of the great Gardener when he prunes the branches of your life and mine? He intends to make our lives even more fruitful. This truth nevertheless implies that seasons will come when a branch looks naked — often just after it had been at least a little fruitful. Any pruning experience, whenever it occurs. can leave us feeling a little puny, naked, and maybe even robbed. We may also wonder if we’ll ever be fruitful again.”
And yet, Fadling says, despite our fears over never being fruitful again, the Gardener knows what he’s doing. Despite the real pain that it brings, it is always for our good. One example Fadling gives is that pruning “enables us to move from producing early and lesser-quality fruit to more mature fruit borne from deeper surrender and dependence.”
When I reflect over the fruit that I was bearing back home, the description “early and lesser-quality fruit” seems apt. Much of my work was done in self-dependence and a sense of needing to validate my own worth and make a place for myself in my community. That is not to say that it was worthless: my desire to serve was genuine, and in his grace, God used my efforts. And yet, I can’t help but wonder what my fruit may have looked like five or ten years down the road if God had not pruned me.
To some extent, I still feel pruned over two years later. I still grieve the loss of many of the roles I once had, and it is taking time to find my place in our new home. Yet, instead of letting the grief turn into bitterness and self-pity, I can find comfort in the one who is not only the master gardener, but also the vine from which my very life comes. Rather than worrying about the amount of fruit that I’m bearing, I’m learning — too slowly! — to abide in him.
Are you or have you recently been in the midst of a pruning season? What good things has God pruned from your life in order to make space for new growth?