Every once in a while I am reminded of a few fundamentals. Notice I didn’t say “THE” fundamentals, nor did I say a fundamental, but a few fundamentals. I guess what I mean is that when those reminders come, it is not usually all of the wisdom you need to know in order to live a fruitful life, nor is it just one lesson, but usually those reminders come as consumable fruits that are packed with nutrients and powerfully foundational to our lives. (Now I am hearing in my head, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”)
It started last week when the landscape team hired Shawnee Tree (a local arborist company who is really good at what they do), to do some pruning on the 50+ year old sugar maple in the back yard of the parsonage. It had been years since anyone had intentionally pruned it, and it looked like it was dying a slow death with several branches no longer producing leaves. However the arborist suggested it needed a good pruning and a deep fertilization. To do the pruning they brought in a crane with a bucket for the arborist to use to get up in the tree. It was truly fascinating to watch the operator move up and down and up and down to get in just the right spot to cut the large branches away from the tree so they would not fall on something below.
At one point the man in the bucket extended the bucket to its highest extension in order to bend the elbow a different direction so that he could get to just the right spot and so he would not hit the house with the crane.
I felt like a kid watching this machine work, and I was in awe of the man who could prune this old maple with such precision.
As I watched, I thought to myself, there is something here I need to pay attention to, because I will want to write about it later.
As I thought later about the pruning the tree experienced, I realized what it was that was striking a chord. This tree has lived for many years with heavy, dead limbs hanging on it. While many, if not most of the limbs were producing leaves and offering shade not to mention producing oxygen and beautiful colors in the fall, there were still these large, heavy, drying, dying limbs that were soaking nutrients from the rest of the tree. They were twiggy and they were trying to break off and fall, and during some good storms they would do just that (which is why it was such a concern that we take care of this pruning as there were concerns for safety of my family and the house). And when I would look at the tree, it looked like it was dying. It was sad and old and tired.
As the arborist cut those heavy, dying pieces of limbs away from the tree, the rest of the limbs would bounce back almost relieved to be rid of the weight and responsibility of carrying that which had weighed it down. Like a person after a good hair cut looks lighter, younger, bouncier, more confident, this tree stood a little taller because she was no longer weighed down by that which she carried and could not let go of on her own.
Pruning is a difficult process. There are times when we are exhausted by carrying around the load of that which no longer serves its original purpose, or any purpose at all, but that we cannot seem to let go. The boxes we’ve had in the basement for five years and yet have no idea what is in them; the clothes that remind us of what we used to look like and hope we can again; the mementoes that we don’t even really like but they were a gift and so we keep them out of politeness; they weigh us down. Then there are the hurts we carry all the time, not in the fore front of our minds, but always there as scars that remind us of literal pain, these mental and emotional traumas keep us from returning trust, and love, they keep us from being able to commit, they weigh us down and age our bodies, just as if we were carrying around actual weights.
We are not good at letting those things go, changing our routines that keep us from growing, releasing the hurts that we won’t allow to heal. We are not good at allowing ourselves to be pruned, because we cannot always let go. But something else occurred to me as I thought back on watching that arborist do his job; the tree does some self-pruning, but cannot do it all by her self. And also, the longer she is left to carry those limbs without pruning, the more they drain her of her life.
You see, we cannot do all of the pruning our lives need. We need help. We need others to help us see the things we cannot see. We need one another to help us let go, even if we must let go again and again. And most importantly we need one like our creator, who not only prunes us but lifts us up when we are healing still from our pruning. It is through grace, that God can bring healing to our pain, and growth to our lives and ministry.
Some things (sometimes it is people and sometimes it is behavior and sometimes it is hurt…) have to be cut away from us in order for us to grow. It will hurt, but we might just be relieved.