Pruning and Identity

As I’m fairly experienced at being pruned by God in my own life, I’m not great at pruning my writing. So here is a continuation of my previous post…more lessons I learned from the tree trimmers.

One, I find it much easier to let go of the dead branches in my life than the ones that bear fruit. I’ve watched broken hackberry branches fall in the winter, crashing down on healthy limbs and injuring them. They are not only fruitless—they can also be hazardous. In my life, the pruning of dead stuff may be painful to me, but in the end, I can at least get on board mentally about the need to chop it off. What is harder is when there is some actual tangible fruit somewhere, and God wants to snip it. I mean—I work hard for fruit. Granted, it all stems from the growth and resources God provides, but I still love that I bear fruit at all. Some days, especially as a stay-at-home mother, the fruit I can actually see from a day’s worth of caring for children and home is that the sink doesn’t have dishes in it (or maybe only a few) or that there is clean laundry in the dryer. So when my Father wants to chop off something I see as fruit, it is scary. Allowing God to prune back fruitful branches requires trust and hope. I must have faith, as Jesus says, that the pruning is so that I can bear more fruit, not less. It is an act for the future, which only God can see, and in whose hands I’ve placed my life. So I have to let him lead me on and allow him to trim back areas that may look good and healthy but can do so much more.

What is harder is when there is some actual tangible fruit somewhere, and God wants to snip it. I mean—I work hard for fruit.

Another lesson I learned is that pruning also involves taking things out of me that don’t belong. My old hackberry tree was growing mistletoe. Yes, growing it. (I learned this, also, from an arborist.) Mistletoe is a parasite that saps nutrients from the tree and can kill off limbs and branches altogether. Several hackberry branches had to fall to the ground, covered in and weakened by the dark green leaves and red berries. As the tree lady told me, the tree itself produces the mistletoe. It doesn’t “catch” the parasite from other trees. It is a symptom that something within the tree is unhealthy, and the fruit of the unhealthiness is the mistletoe. It must be physically removed to allow the tree to regain its health. I chewed on that a while. What is there in me that is diseased or unhealthy? What sickness do I carry inside that bears damaging fruit on my outside? What parasites have I allowed into my branches, that while they may look pretty and green—even in winter, mind you—are actually killing me little pieces at a time? Am I giving God the freedom to pluck them from my twigs and limbs and branches? Or will I let the damaging effects of the rottenness inside me continue to grow and sap from me the nutrients God intends for my best fruits?

What sickness do I carry inside that bears damaging fruit on my outside?

My tree looked different after it was pruned than when the pruning began. It had lost branches, and mistletoe, and brokenness, and deadness. Light could reach the formerly shadowed spaces. I could see through the interior of the tree where mangled, twisted, broken branches and parasitic mistletoe once lived. It was lighter, healthier, even prettier. But there was also a lot of evidence of sawed off limbs and twigs. While I am not a gardener, I do personify my plants. I couldn’t help but wonder how my tree felt about losing so much foliage. Some of those little branches had been there for years and years, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone. Chewed up by a chipper machine. I’ve watched God prune things from my life, and dead or alive, what sometimes hurt the most was how I saw myself after the pruning. I didn’t look or feel like me. When I was transplanted to a new city, away from my hometown, I felt like someone else. That branch called “home” was missing. My identity got messed with. What I didn’t know at the time was how God would grow a new branch to represent my new home, and that it would bear fruit for His glory. But I had to trust.

Some people suffer other losses. They might have lost a child, a spouse, a job, a home, overcome an addiction—and now they are faced with looking at themselves but not recognizing what they see. The things we grow in our life become part of who we are, and when we lose those things—trivial things and significant things—it takes some getting used to. The open wounds where the branches once attached must heal. Sure, there is room for new, beautiful growth, but that’s in the future. Freshly pruned people have to take a moment and reassess their identity—who am I? Why was I made? What is my purpose? How do I live so that my branches keep bearing fruit and I don’t sprout any awful parasites? How do I stretch out my limbs to the sky to bring glory to God if I’ve lost my best or most beautiful or most familiar or strongest branch? Will I survive?

Each day, I will look more familiar to myself.

As I wrestle with these questions, I remember in whose care I’ve placed my heart and my branches and my life and my fruit and my disease. I’ve placed them in the hands of my Heavenly Father, who made me and loves me unconditionally. This makes it a little easier to trust that I will recover from the great loss I’ve sustained in my pruning and hope for something good to grow anew. Each day, I will look more familiar to myself. Hopefully, each day I will look a little more like God wants me to look. Hopefully, each day I will bear good fruit, not because I am good, but because the source of my life is Jesus Christ. And hopefully, each day will begin and end with my arms stretched to the skies, proclaiming my faith and trust in God, the greatest master of all gardening, who loves me and knows how I feel about each falling leaf, and can already see the magnificent tree I will be one day.