When the summer heat peaked, my hydrangea bushes started to bloom again. I couldn’t believe their ability to keep going when it felt unbearable to be outside and you could hear the grass crunch under your feet. What was happening? We trimmed the new blooms, gathered them in a vase, and enjoyed the unexpected beauty.
I’ve joked before that my desire to purchase our quirky 1940’s home was largely based upon the two hydrangea bushes flanking the side of our porch. Everyone who stops by comments on their beauty. In fact, the first summer we lived here, there was a knock on the door early one Sunday morning. An older couple stood there, hedge clippers in hand, and asked if they could cut some of our blooms. I was so flabbergasted that I nodded my head, said, “Sure,” and then watched in bewilderment as they cut away stem after stem. In hind sight, I could have charged a pretty penny for those flowers.
This year, as new flowers continued to appear, I knew I needed to get out the clippers and cut them back. Gardening experts say if you want a healthy flowering bush the following year, you’re supposed to prune the branches after they stop blooming. If you wait too long, you could stunt next year’s growth, or perhaps not get any flowers at all. But little green leaves were shooting out all over the place. Was cutting off the new growth really best for my beautiful bushes?
A few Saturdays ago, I finally got up the nerve to do what was necessary. With every snip of the pruning shears, I cringed thinking, “What if the experts are wrong? What if cutting off this new growth will actually keep it from ever blooming again? Am I killing these plants?” It was a painful process.
My hydrangeas provide year-round lessons; this month was no exception. It feels like God is cutting away parts of my life, just when the fruit is getting ripe, ready for something wonderful. Some great opportunities have come, and I’ve had to say No. I’m unable to consider or pursue other ones, even though I’m ready and eager to jump at them. And some areas of my life are on hold, or moving slowly, because my family needs me, my husband is deployed, and childcare is sparse.
If I’m honest, it hurts. Every time God says, “No,” or, “Not now,” I want to say, “Wait, what? Those branches are doing great! Let them keep growing! There’s good work here! I’m ready to bear fruit for you, Lord! Why are you chopping it all away?”
Pruning is Necessary
I imagine many of us are experiencing the whacking sound and sharp slice of pruning shears in at least one area of our lives right now. Perhaps an aspect of your life is on hold, or you’re just not able to give it the attention you’d like. With your kids at home, or in an unpredictable school rhythm, your time isn’t as flexible as it once was. Childcare is spotty, and it can feel frustrating to be limited by a lack of capacity. Some of you finally landed your dream job, only to feel as though you can’t devote the time necessary or the passion you feel in your new role.
When our ability is ripe and our capacity is low—or non-existent— it can feel as though God is being unfair or unkind to keep us from what we love. We may feel tempted to grow angry, confused, or even bitter. We want fruit, and when it seems like it won’t ripen and burst forth in the ways or the timing we imagined, we might start to believe nothing is happening at all.
Wherever you find yourself, may you know this: God isn’t standing over you cutting away all those things in your life because he doesn’t care about you and he wants you to be miserable. He’s pruning you because he loves you.
When I chopped my hydrangea bushes a few weeks ago, it was painful. I love those bushes. I want them to flourish.
But it was because of my love for them that I had to cut them back. They won’t grow well if I let them keep going. Their blooms won’t be as brilliant or bountiful. It’s counterintuitive to our human nature, but this is the way God works with us too.
He prunes us, not to kill the fruit we’re producing or to make us feel like he doesn’t want to use us. He prunes the branches that are bearing fruit so we bear more fruit! Sometimes he spreads the pruning far apart, just like I prune my bushes once a year. Other times the pruning feels closer together—we might feel it daily, or even multiple times in one day. The Vinedresser’s work is always done in love.
The Secret Fruit from Abiding
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how anything good could come from a group of spindly branches. And for months after pruning my hydrangeas, nothing extraordinary happens. I can’t have flower arrangements for our table, there are no lush leaves behind me when I sit on the porch swing, and I can see all the bits of goldfish bags, freezer pop sleeves, and fruit snack wrappers the kids have carelessly dropped into the bushes. It’s not beautiful to behold.
And this is where I have to trust the pruning process. Because what might look like a dormant bush is actually a bush that is undergoing secret, hidden work which I can’t see or understand, but will one day reveal itself in splendor.
This is what happens in our souls. We might feel like God has cut and stripped away good work we wanted to accomplish in this season—just when we were getting started—but he hasn’t quit his work.
When his love prunes us back, he’s doing a hidden and secret work within us. Maybe no one will see it and we may not even feel tangible results right away, but he’s doing something. He’s sanctifying us, renewing us, and conforming us to the image of Christ. All of this happens as we abide in him. Just you and Jesus. Nobody else sees the posture of your heart. No one else can know the ways God works in your soul to convict you of sin, reorient your affections, and compel you to obedience to Christ. But those things are good, necessary work which will in turn produce fruit for God’s kingdom.
We can trust him with the pruning. He’s doing it because he wants us to flourish. He’s allowing it so that we grow in our belief that we must remain attached to him in order to bear any fruit for his glory.
We can rejoice in the pruning and look forward to more fruit. Not for us, not for our glory or to become great in God’s kingdom. We look forward to more fruit in order for others to know what it’s like to abide in Christ. We bear fruit to point others to Jesus.
God might be pruning us in this season, but we can trust him, be patient, and wait. God has more fruit in store that will be better than we could ever imagine.
For further study, please read John 15:1-11