I wrote a couple weeks ago about my unintentional garden. It’s a 4′ X 4′ tangle of weeds, tomato plants, and one prolific bell pepper plant.
Seriously, the bell pepper plant has four stalks with a dozen blooms each. The first stalk already has a dozen baby peppers forming. If it keeps it up, I won’t have to buy frozen bell peppers for a year.
And that’s not even mentioning the bountiful tomato plants!
It’s the least labor-intensive garden I’ve ever had. Steady rains have watered it as much as it needs. On the rare day I do have to water it, all I have to do is dump my wheelbarrow, which captures enough rain for a full soak.
But whenever I go out to pick cherry tomatoes, every other day or so, I prune some of the branches. These plants (bushes?!) would grow so thick that the tomatoes would be hidden.
Here’s what I’m noticing. Some of the branches produce blossoms and then fruit, and others only have leaves. Obviously, when thinning down the plant, I’m going to take off the leaves with no blossoms, right?
So I was outside gathering a daily ration of vine-ripened tomatoes and Jesus’ words from John 15 came to mind.
“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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:1-4).
If you’re like me, you can look back on your life and see times of pruning, when God removed something you wanted in your life. Maybe it was friends, a job position, or something material.
For me, it was the stage-perfect version of the Christian life I’d created. God had to go to great lengths to show me that I was focused more on performing, being the person I thought other Christians would be impressed with, rather than doing real life with Him.
The power of other people’s approval is alluring. Here’s my thought process. (See if you can relate.) “If only those who look like they have it all together think that I have it all together, then maybe there’s a chance I have it all together!”
It’s a maddening game we get trapped in.
But here’s the great news: no one has it all together. Our acceptability to God doesn’t depend on having it together (even if sometimes our acceptability to other people does).
When God began the pruning process, peeling away layers of people pleasing and performance-focused worship, it hurt. I even felt physical pain as I faced horrible memories from the past that showed me I didn’t really have it together.
During that period, I even began to question whether or not He loved me. I thought my life was a mistake.
But I can say this now with confidence—that pruning process has given me more freedom than I could have ever imagined. There are days when I’m just happy to be along with Him for the ride, co-creating together or ministering to people.
That’s not to say there still isn’t pruning going on. As I learn to walk by the Spirit instead of the idol of public acceptance, I still see many old habits and coping mechanisms that need stripping away. But I wouldn’t go back to the façade of having it together for anything.
I can be happy growing like my bohemian garden, not perfectly cultivated and aligned, but right where He’s planted me. And I can even be thankful for the pruning now.
For my tomato plants, the more pruning of non-fruiting branches happens, the more prolific the fruit on the vine. For me, the more pruning away of the idolatry of acceptance, the more I live seeking His pleasure.
So that’s what He means by “O taste and see that the LORD is good: How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8).
Like my garden, I may not seem like a picture-perfect vision to others, but I am loved. I know this, because He gives me everything I need, even a good pruning now and then.
What’s the Master Gardener doing in your life right now? Please continue the conversation in the comments.