A couple of weeks ago I needed some time to myself. Our baby was being overly clingy, the older two were driving me up a wall and I felt like I was on the fast-track to Crazy Town. Mike took care of things around the house and I went outside; work gloves on, clippers in my hand and the determination to accomplish something...anything.
I stared at our nine lime bushes and realized they were looking pretty pathetic. Limbs were hanging on the ground, weedy vines had taken home in their branches. I knew what needed to be done.
I started on the first bush and it went fairly smooth. Nothing crazy to do, just some general maintenance and the loss of just a few, small limes. I was feeling good. Accomplished. I stepped back, admired my work and moved on to the next bush.
Each lime bush following the first became a little more difficult. They were larger bushes and had more overgrowth but they also had quite a few limes growing on the low-lying branches. I don't like to waste anything, especially not precious limes that make the most amazing limeade known to mankind. Very quickly I realized I was going to have to make some significant cuts to this bush. Ones that were likely to remove some incredible limes not quite ready for harvest. They still had potential and I had to think long and hard about what I was going to do.
I almost grimaced the first time I had to prune a branch that had a bundle of those beautiful, green fruits. I thought to myself, "How silly I am being, they are only limes." After finishing the first round of pruning on our biggest lime bush I stood back and looked at the slaughter. All around me were perfectly good limes laying on the ground, never to be used to make limeade or anything else for that matter. It seems a little dramatic but I must have just been in one of those moods. I was really distraught over the loss of these limes.
As I stood for awhile, staring at the other six bushes I had left to prune, I wondered if I had it in me. "They are fine," I said, "they are producing limes, I should just leave them alone." No sooner than I completed the conversation in my head, I got a little nudging from the Holy Spirit. I knew a lesson was on its way.
When most people think of pruning they think of it as cutting off what is dead so something new can grow. It's a beautiful metaphor for life, isn't it? Sacrifice for the greater good. Prune the hurt, the pain, the past, the sin and the anger out of your life so that peace, hope, love and patience can grow in their place. But what if pruning has more to do with something you deem good in your life? Has God ever asked you to give up something that produces fruit? Has He ever asked you to prune something out of your life that you love, that isn't destructive or sinful?
John 15:2 says, "...every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." Did you catch that? He's not cutting off a branch that is already dead, He is pruning a branch that is bearing fruit. Kind of a game-changer.
I've always been ok with cutting off dead branches in my life. It hurts and it's hard but I know that it is worth the discomfort in the end. But pruning a good branch? That just seems counter-productive, doesn't it? But any gardener or farmer will tell you different. And our Gardener will tell you that too.
So what does a fruit-bearing branch that needs to be cut, look like? Maybe you are super involved in a lot of outreach at your church. But you are so involved and can never say no, that you aren't focusing the right time and energy into what God has designed you specifically for. You are bearing fruit but not the kind of fruit God knows you are capable of.
Maybe you are a stellar athlete. On top of your game, better than the rest. But your sport or sports keeps you from plugging into your church and your church body. All of your games or competitions are during services or youth group or volunteer hours. Or you are too exhausted from all of your competitions that you can't pull yourself out of the house during your few, free hours. But God gave you that talent, why would He ask you to prune it out? You can use your gifts as an athlete to impact others, right? But maybe you can use your gifts in a way that will bear more fruit.
Maybe you are in ministry now but you have crazy gifts and talents in the business world. Maybe God is asking you to leave ministry (gasp!) and join the business world so that you can impact others for Christ and use your financial resources to spur on others in ministry.
Or in my case, photography. When we started this whole process to open up an orphanage, I was perfectly content being a photographer/missionary...or so I thought. Over these few months as I dug deep and really contemplated why God asked us to give up working with a ministry we loved to start something new I realized that I was just using the wrong gift for His glory. Sure, my talents as a photographer were bearing fruit; it was drawing attention to the needs here in the Dominican Republic. But God designed me to be more than just a photographer.
He gave me a sensitive heart and an intense burden for orphaned children. He made me a hugger and a nurturer; specifically to bring comfort to those that are hurting. He made me a dreamer and a planner and an innovator. He designed me to be stubborn and hard-headed and relentless when I am fighting for something I truly believe in.
It is not easy pruning the branches in your life because, in reality, it may mean giving up something you are really good at or that bring you accolades. But you know what happened three weeks after I wearily pruned my beloved lime bushes? The limes that are on the trees now are bigger and produce almost twice as much juice as the ones before. And if a clumsy gardener like myself can prune my way to a better bounty, imagine what our all-knowing Gardener can do in you, if you let Him.