"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit....I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing."
John 15: 1-2, 4-5 (New American Bible)
We recently had some drainage work done in our front yard, and following the completion of the project we had great drainage but not-so-great-looking landscaping! So, this weekend ET and I decided to re-plant and prune the plants that we have in our front yard, which took much longer than I had expected. As is often the case with any type of physical labor, working in the yard gave me the opportunity to reflect and think those deep thoughts that sometimes don't happen in the course of a normal day spent with young children!
The above passage from the Gospel of John kept running through my head, and I was thinking of how wise Jesus was in giving us the image of God the Father as the "vine grower". The people of Jesus' time could relate very well to the image of God as "vine grower," since the cultivation of grapes was an integral part of early Hebrew culture. The hills of the Holy Land provided a perfect place for the planting of grape vineyards, and the keepers of these vineyards had to cultivate and prune their vines to ensure an optimal yield of grapes. Perhaps the most important job of the vine-grower is pruning. If there are branches that are not producing fruit, they must be cut off. When the main branch of the vine reaches a particular size, it must be pruned at the top so as to encourage the development of side shoots. Each side branch produces abundant fruit so long as it remains attached to the sturdy center stalk of the vine, which provides all of the side branches with their nourishment.
So, what parallels can we draw from the image of the vine and branches? To simplify, we can learn that first, we must always remain rooted in Christ as our sturdy center stalk, otherwise we will not have the nourishment that we need to thrive and bear abundant fruit. Secondly, we can realize that even when we are rooted in Christ, we still need Him to be our "Gardener," the One who has a greater vision for our lives and who knows when we need "pruning" so that we can be who we were created to be. Remember, it is only by pruning that grape-vines can grow side-branches that bear abundant fruit. In the same way, perhaps our lives need pruning so that we can move in a new direction to accomplish God's will for our lives. Sometimes this prospect is scary, even painful; other times, we cry out to God and ask Him to prune us because we realize that we have hit a dead end and need His life-giving power to work in our lives. Perhaps we need to cut a certain habit out of our lives so that we can become more productive, healthy individuals. Perhaps we need to cut off a certain relationship that is sucking all of the life out of us. Perhaps we need to give up a certain way of thinking that is crippling our ability to be full of the joy and peace of Christ. Whatever it is, we can be certain that pruning is a life-long process.
As I was working in the yard last weekend, I realized that the task of re-planting and pruning had been hanging over my head for the past couple of weeks. The chore had been daunting to me before I got started; I would look at the mess and think to myself, "How will I ever clean this up?!" But once we (literally!) got our hands dirty and started in on the project, we gained a certain amount of clarity about the whole endeavor. It was easier to see where some extra work was needed, and which areas could be left alone for now. Bit by bit, I was able to see what the end-product could look like, and this encouraged me to keep going! My muscles were sore and my body grew weary, and at a certain point it became clear that enough work had been done for the day. But I came away with a feeling of great peace and a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, I realized, you just have to jump in and get started. And after a little while, make sure to step back and get a sense of the bigger picture. Soon, it will be time to rest and take a break for a little while, seeing how things unfold. And then, there will be more work to be done, but with the promise of abundant fruit and a bit of respite at the end.