I am an amateur gardener at best. We have a few flower bushes among which are my favorite – roses! How I love my rose bushes! There is little else like a newly blooming rose that can inspire awe in my heart and a love for the beauty of God’s creation. I recently, FINALLY, heeded popular gardening advice to give a thorough pruning to my bushes. The noticeable results got me thinking about the spiritual truths that can be reaped through the experience of caring for plants.
I used to be fearful of pruning my rose bushes, wanting them to have full freedom to grow any which way they would. I didn’t want to be like a highly caffeinated hairdresser lopping off more than enough inches, leading to something that looked like a shearing rather than a trim. ‘Don’t be afraid to prune’ gardening experts say, “pruning leads to new growth and continued blooming.” (Marie Ianotti)
A few days ago, after my favorite bush bore its first blooms and their glory began to fade and wilt, I gave it a thorough pruning. Dead branches, diseased leaves, old blooms and skewed branches were removed “opening up the center of the plant to light and air circulation.” (Marie Ianotti) My eyes were amazed at what I found the next morning! New reddish green branches already over an inch long were stretching up and outward, and the older branches and leaves looked greener and sturdier. How interesting that my bush needed me to “injure” it for it to get healthier and stronger.
Is not our spiritual life the same? Is not holy scripture full of references to planting and reaping, pruning, uprooting, grafting and weeding? Jesus said, “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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:1-2)
Let the Vinedresser Prune Your Soul: Go to Confession!
Our heavenly Father is the One who can prune our souls perfectly. He is the Vinedresser that knows what is dead inside us, what is diseased and what is threatening to cause stunted growth in our lives. The act of praying before the sacrament of confession for knowledge of what to confess, the humility to confess thoroughly without excuses, and for our confessor to see in us that which needs to be exposed, all lead to a thorough and mysterious, spiritual cleansing – “opening up our center to light.” When we are pruned it can be uncomfortable and even painful. Cutting out diseased areas is just as difficult spiritually as it is physically, but also just as necessary for healing. It is only when we have consistent and good pruning that the true “center” of our personhood has unimpeded room to grow. Symmetrically and intentionally and beautifully, He shapes us into the person He means for us to become.
Let the Vinedresser Prune Your Soul: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!
I am reluctant to embrace change boldly. “Keep it the same” is the motto I would be inclined to live by if left to my own unchecked devices. This is so deeply a part of my personality that it comes out in the most minute ways. For example, I’m not able to envision how a room would look if furniture is rearranged, so I keep it the same. I get anxious at the thoughts of an uncomfortable silence if I call someone I have been thinking about, so I don’t call. And to a greater and more realistic degree, I fear having new experiences as a family. This is realistic because our son has physical challenges including sensory processing issues: in the past, small excursions have felt like hellish tragedies. This tends to stifle my already cautious decision-making.
The recent simple act of pruning my rose bushes got me thinking about taking some chances this summer in our family life. It’s time. We are not getting enough air circulation and light. New experiences may be uncomfortable at least, and painful at best but without them our family will not grow healthier. We have a church outing to a local amusement park scheduled for our youth group. The time and effort it will take to prepare for even a half day at the park will itself be a drain of energy, but I plan to take the hit. My goal is for us to get through a half day excursion, trying out a few rides that might be enjoyable to Michael. He loves to spin, and he loves water play– surely there are a few attractions that have the potential for enjoyment for him. However, even if the whole outing proves to be a disaster, it will have been a success for trying. We need to get out of our comfort zone, I can feel the stifled air of stagnancy choking me and I’m ready for our family to breathe in a fresh experience. Even if I cannot see the fruits or “blossoms” I have a feeling new growth will follow.
Prune Your Soul - Even a Bad Pruning Does Good
“It is generally agreed that most mistakes will grow out very quickly and it is better to make a good effort at pruning roses, even if you make a few mistakes, than to let them grow rampant.” (Marie Ianotti) This gardening wisdom can truly be applied to our efforts toward spiritual growth. Looking back, even my most unprepared and least sincere confessions have led to some healing or clearer thinking. The most difficult family outings have become learning experiences, and sometimes even funny memories we reminisce about!
What about you and your family? Is it time for some soul-pruning? Schedule confession! Time to break the monotony in your family’s schedule? Do something new together! It can be as simple as taking a walk in the park for some families, or as big as embarking on a mission trip for others. Whatever you set out to do prayerfully, remember “it is better to make a good effort…even if you make a few mistakes.” In time, the sting felt when our Vinedresser cuts off unhealthy “branches” in us and our family life will lead to new growth and beautiful blossoming that glorifies and inspires awe and trust in Him.
Presvytera Melanie DiStefano is the Resource Coordinator for the GOA Center for Family Care.