The crab apple tree in my front yard was over grown and hadn’t been pruned in years. The canopy was thick and dense and blocked the sun from reaching the grass below, resulting in a powdery mildew infecting the lawn, and providing shelter for unwelcome birds that roosted (and pooped) above my driveway. Some branches were low to the ground and others shot out at odd angles – untamed in their purpose or direction.
Long overdue, it was time to prune.
With saw and shears in hand I began to circle the tree, starting with the lower branches to make room for mowing, then moving higher to thin the canopy. The more I pruned, the more I saw need for additional pruning. Removing branches that rubbed against and entangled one another; water sprouts and suckers that were likely the result of previous pruning; large horizontal branches that would be susceptible to damage from the heavy spring snows that were sure to come.
When I finally put the saw away I had cut out much more than I had initially planned, but the tree looked much better and the lawn was getting a lot more sun light. And when the heavy spring snow came in late May, the tree survived with hardly any damage at all.
All this got me to thinking about tree pruning as a metaphor. While pruning a tree involves cutting out undesirable branches, what might that look like in my life?
– Left unpruned, trees can become a wild mess. Think of those wild unkempt branches as harmful thoughts, words, and actions that are contrary to God’s will. In a word, sin.
– Bad branches left too long can be both ugly and dangerous – resulting in broken branches and / or a split trunk. Or broken relationships and poor health.
– Pruning is an ongoing, lifelong process. As long as we’re alive, pruning and shaping will be needed.
– Pruning a problem branch early leaves a minimal scar. Nipping bad behaviors in the bud can keep them from becoming a problem.
– May need to be done in stages, or wait until the tree is strong enough to withstand large cuts. Again, a lifelong process.
– Pruning allows light and airflow into the canopy and through to the lawn below. A level of transparency and openness to our lives helps root out old habits and prevent new habits from forming.
– Some bad branches (like water sprouts) can be the result of nicks in the bark. Physical and emotional injuries can result in unhealthy defense mechanisms if not tended to.
One aspect of this metaphor that gets my attention is that the tree doesn’t prune itself. While we (unlike the tree) may be able to identify some of our own “bad branches”, we’re likely unable or unwilling to cut much on our own. “I’ll just snip this small branch and see how that works…” And we’re simply not going to see all that needs pruning, no matter how long and hard we look.
No, we’re going to need help. Trusted brothers that come along side us to help identify what needs pruning, and to hold us accountable for clearing out the junk.
But most of all we need the Master Gardener to take control of the pruning shears in our lives. God is the one who created us and knows everything about us. Much more than we know ourselves. And while the pruning may be painful, He is trustworthy and faithful.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15: 1-2)
So how about you?
What areas of your life need pruning? Got a trusted friend to help you with the dead wood? And are you ready to hand over the shears to the only One who really knows what needs pruning?