A Season For Pruning

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On March 14th, my husband tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, my children and I tested negative. My husband left to ride out his quarantine with his parents, who also tested positive. But because of our prolonged and close exposure to a someone who had a positive test, the boys and I also had to be quarantined for fourteen days at our home. Sitting at my desk, looking at our yard that had become our world, I continued to notice the plants and trees greening as spring arrived in Alabama. The following is from that time of separation, fear, and sitting in the unknown as COVID-19 arrived officially in Alabama.

During a week when we typically are out of town, we find ourselves home—quarantined to our house and private property, ordered thus so by the County Health Department. In a normal year, my family and I would have left for the lake for part of our Spring Break. But this year, we leave for the den, only to travel back to our bedrooms, then yard, or maybe back porch throughout the day.

Each morning of this quarantine, the world changes again. The dogwood tree appears to have budded more and has now bloomed with its cross-like petals. The Lady Banks rose, with delicate yellow flowers, drapes casually over my back fence, blooming just as she is expected. Azaleas across the street show off with bright pink blooms, right on time. Spring has come despite the world stopping.

And as I admire nature, in its greens, yellows, pinks, and every shade you can imagine, I notice my boxwoods and holly bushes, anchors in our landscape. Light green growth has appeared, soft and new on branches I only recently trimmed.

They had become a bit too health—unruly, one might say. Too big for their britches, with wild hairs, or branches, sticking up every which way like Alfalfa on Little Rascals. In a fit of anxiety and a need to “do” as we wait to see where COVID-19 will take us, I begin to trim, shape, and prune the boxwoods and hollies.

James Farmer, a landscape and interior designer, describes pruning as “a crucial element of the garden lifestyle. Pruning, snipping, and carefully cultivating your garden ensures continual blooms, aesthetic goodness, and abundant fruits and vegetables throughout the production season.”

I was surprised to see new growth yesterday on the boxwoods and hollies, as I had been worried I had mistimed my pruning. Yet there is new life, and it looks better than it did previously. It brought to mind my family’s current situation.

My husband and in-laws, testing positive for COVID-19, are quarantined to my in-laws’ home. My three boys and I are left at our house, under my husband’s quarantine order, watching the world walk by, not really fully knowing what it is like now beyond our view.

I have been stripped of what my ordinary days used to consist of—exercise outside of the home, meetings, grocery shopping, homework, carpools, sports, and even my husband coming home in the evening. My life has been pruned back significantly.

As I look at the branches with their new growth, I wonder what new growth I will have after so much has been pruned back from my life. What else will be pruned and what other growth will come in its place?

In John 15, Jesus says, “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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Jesus goes on to explain, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Verse four translates also as “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you (The Message). For the Christian, this is the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. We abide through prayer and scripture and Christ abides with us by His sheer grace. My sins are forgiven, nailed to the cross, and death is defeated in Christ’s resurrection. The power and beauty of my Savior is that He makes me His dwelling place.

When I dwell with Him and He in me, I am told by Jesus that I will bear fruit. Yet, I am also told I will be pruned.

Pruning: cutting back growth to make way for better, stronger growth; the taking up of a sharp object with the intent to cut away; “a crucial element” for the vine, often painful, involving a loss of something.

Isn’t that how the recent past has felt? Who hasn’t felt a loss, whether it be something as simple as a tennis match or as important as a wedding date?

But for those who abide in Christ, we have a promise in Christ. He says He will prune, but He prunes that the branch may bear more fruit. Is the pruning the haircut, the style I desired? Maybe not. Is it in the timing I desired? Probably not. But we can trust the vinedresser. He is good. He is faithful. And He knows what He is doing as He strips away old growth to make way for the new.

As each morning greets me, I am learning to notice the new growth around me and in me. Sometimes it is hard to see: patience and gentleness, for example, present themselves as mere buds, tiny promises of what is to come, buds that I’m not sure will make it through a chilly night. But sometimes the growth feels as obvious as the hot pink azalea blooms across the street – bold, easily proclaiming God’s glory.

The growth is coming and will come. The promise remains from Jesus: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.[…] By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

May we accept with grace and humility the pruning our Heavenly Father lovingly bestows upon us, and look with hope to the promised growth that He alone can bring.

Our family is now reunited and has been for many weeks, but the world is still not back to normal. We continue to miss events and people. We don’t have answers to what summer will look like for our family, but it is safe to say, as the weeks go on, our activities will likely continue to look different from what we would have liked. The pruning continues. I find myself frustrated and despondent some days, thankful for the time with family and slower pace on other days.

But as we ride out social distancing into May, what has remained obvious to me is that I am fully in need of and dependent upon my kind, loving God who continues to shape me, painfully at times, into the child of God I am meant to be. I struggle daily with submitting to His shears, but when I get a glimpse of a new fruit or the promise of it, or remember His faithfulness in growing me thus far, I can lay down my agenda, my plans and let His will be done.

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