by Elodia Flynn, L.C.S.W.
I have always loved working in the garden because besides being my therapeutic outlet, it is also a source of great pleasure. I have tried my hands at growing lots of things and while I‘m not, by any means, a rosarian, I have tried growing roses with some degree of success. It was in the process of pruning my roses that I came to have a clear picture of 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 bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which 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, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the true vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing”. (NASB)
I don’t know about you, but my understanding of Scriptures usually comes not when I’m studying, praying, or in church, but when I’m doing something so mundane as pruning a rose bush. The Lord usually uses very mundane things to explain spiritual principles to us.
When I started learning about growing roses a gentleman known as a great rosarian came to teach me the process of pruning. He began by asking the question of whether I wanted lots of small roses or fewer roses, but larger. You see, how we prune not only maintains the health and beauty of the plant, but also determines the size of the roses we get. He was very careful in the way he cut the branches, since the angle of the cut determines how the new branch will grow. Every cut was quickly sealed with Elmer glue to protect the new and soft branch from insects feeding on the sap. I began to understand that pruning is not just a haphazard process, but something done with a very specific goal in mind—the health and beauty of the bush and the quality of the fruit—in this case, roses.
Then one year, right after the last frost and once the bushes started leafing out, I was beginning to get ready to do some pruning when a friend said, “Oh, don’t cut them, they look so pretty and healthy.” Clippers in hands, I responded, “ It is necessary for the health of the plant and the quality of the roses, to cut them down.” As I started cutting my friend was horrified and said, “Stop, you’re going to kill them.” It seemed to her that what I was doing to the plants was not only unnecessary, but also cruel. I responded that in a few weeks she would be surprised at how those “Stumps,” as she described them, were going to look.
After I finished picking up all the withered branches and sat down to observe my work, the above scripture came to mind. Christ the Vine, His Father the Vinedresser, and we the branches. But how was this Scripture related to what I did to my rose bushes? As I carefully observed the plants and what I just have done, I wanted to understand the spiritual side of pruning? I began by removing the dead canes. These can be identified as cane that are shriveled, dark brown, or black. Then I preceded to tear off the “suckers,” these are small branches that come out of the root system; they take away nutrients, crowd out the plant, but produce nothing. Others, I cut off because they were weak and prone to diseased. Others, I cut so that they would produce better and prettier roses and yet others, called cross branches, I cut because the direction of their growth was counter productive to the overall look, production and health of the plant. Shortly after being cut off, the branches lay withered on the ground and I picked them up to throw them away.
Cutting Off Dead Wood
If we put ourselves in this picture how are we pruned by the Master vinedresser? The first thing He does is to clean us up by cutting off all the dead wood. The dead woods of our lives are those events that happen to us many years ago. They were no doubt very painful, like any kind of abuse, rejection or being shame by the people we love and whose approval we needed and wanted; but even today the pain of those events still affect us. We find ourselves angry, resentful, bitter, and unforgiving and take our frustration out on innocent victims—usually our children. The longer and tighter we hold unto that dead wood the more part of us dies down. They are so debilitating that the only things you see in us are the dried out branches that produce absolutely nothing. They are like cancer cells that infect the rest of the body and eventually leave us emotionally dead.
- What is some dead wood you are still holding on? Are you willing to go through the pain of being pruned?
- What skills have you developed to deal with intrusive and painful thoughts?
- As a mother or wife, what are some of your greatest regrets?
- Do you tend to personalize the behavior of other people as statements of you?
- Do you find yourself easily angered and frustrated with your children over relatively small transgressions?
Pruning the Good Branches
Then there are those habits that, while good, need some pruning. These are the good things we do, but if we are not careful they get out of balance. Like getting involved in too many things, taking on too many responsibilities or not asking for help when we needed. As a result we don’t do anything with excellence, but half way.
- How many good things are you involved with, but that at the end of the day you find yourself physically exhausted?
- Do you find yourself always rushing from one activity to another?
- How many activities do you allow your children to be involved in?
- Do you find yourself too busy to rest, listen to your children or spend a few quiet minutes with the Lord?
Cutting Away the Suckers
Next, He goes for the suckers, which usually come right out of the roots. He does not cut them off, but tears them off to make sure they don’t regrow again or multiply, as it is their tendency. Usually, these are unhealthy habits we develop to cope with life’s difficulties. The development of one leads to another and another and pretty soon we find ourselves addictive to them. They debilitate us and crowd our lives, but produced nothing of value. Like buying things we don’t need or our obsession with exercise or diet. And let us not forget the incredible amounts of time we often spend on Facebook, or our indispensable cell phones. I’m not suggesting that these things are bad in and of themselves but, if not careful, we find ourselves control by them.
Perhaps you can write down what are a few suckers that need to be torn off from your life.
- As an example, you might want to check how much of your time is spend on Facebook?
- When you get a text do you feel the urge to look at it immediately even though you are only a couple of minutes away from where you are going?
- When you get up in the morning what is the first thing you look at and then grab? Your Cell phone?
- We are told, “you are the temples of the Holy Spirit” As the temple of God Spirit, can you name 3 things you do to care for His temple?
Removing Diseased Branches
Next there are those weak and prone to diseases branches. These are habits we seldom talked about, like feeling sorry for ourselves, anxious or depressed. From this position a small mistake is a catastrophe and we criticized ourselves and conclude that the reason why not even the Lord loves us is because of our stupidity. Added to this is our view of ourselves as worthless and undeserving of loving or being love not only by others, but also by the Lord Himself. As a result our relationships are a continual struggle and we isolate or worse conclude that life is not worth living. Our own self-values is at the root of those weak and prone to diseases branches.
- Are you afraid to trust others, so you isolate?
- What do you say to yourselves when you make a mistake?
- How often do you doubt your ability to love or deserving of being love?
- Do you doubt the value of your life?
- When life hurts, what is the first thing you think about? Then, what do you do next?
Taking Away the Cross Branches
And then, what are the cross branches? These are activities we engage ourselves in that lead us in the wrong direction. Among these is our preoccupation with what others faceless and nameless peoples may think of us. As a result every decision we make is based on what those other peoples may think or say about us. Our lack of boundaries also fit in the in the cross branch category. And since we are afraid of what others may think of us, we find ourselves saying “YES” to every request, and then resenting those that we feel are taken advantage of us. But in the event that we might say “NO”, we justify our “NOS” with a series of excuses none of which are true.
- How often in making a decision, let say whether or not you Home School your children or participate in a particular activity is decided by your fear of what others may say or think of you?
- Are your decisions made by your need to belong and be accepted by the group?
- Is the motivation of your “YESes” a genuine desire to please the Lord or are they motivated by your fear of being rejected or criticized?
- Do you believe that your “YESes” are a way for you to make friends?
Sealing the Branches
While the Scriptures does not addressed the sealing of the branches, I thought, how might the Master Vinedresser, would seal the cuts of His pruning in us? Surely not with Elmer glue? For the roses the glue acts as a protective and healing balm. But what about us, if we were so careful to protect a rose bush from diseased, certainly He would not leave us expose to the elements? In Psalm 147:3 we reads, “He heals the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.” But how? In Jeremiah 8:14-22 reference is made to the Balm of Gilead. The Bible uses the term “balm of Gilead” metaphorically as an example of something with healing or soothing powers. Matthew Henry in his commentary about this verse said, “The blood of Christ is the balm in Gilead, his Spirit is the Physician there, all-sufficient; so that the people may be healed,”
In light that the Holy Spirit is present in us and among us, we are going to finish by doing something out of the ordinary. For a minute now, close your eyes and while you hear the song being sang picture the Holy Spirit applying the balm of Gilead to those old wounds. Then when the song is finish you might want to share your experience with those around your table.