Lessons from the Farmer, Part 3

We’re cyber-friends now, you and I.

You’ve heard about my bougainvillea and my struggles in parenting.

We’ve established enough relationship together that you might feel comfortable saying, “Ok, Rachel, enough with the gardening metaphors.”

And I’ll reply, “I know, I know, but I’ve got one more.”

Drunk on the success of my vibrant bougainvillea, I made the risky move to try to grow roses. Sure, I was intimidated, but also felt up for the challenge. Perhaps some of my motivation stemmed from the reality that I could at least control what was happening in my garden. I could water. I could plant. I could bring them out in the sun or move toward a more shady space. There was some measure of control I could exert over these plants that had some bearing on their growth.

It was a great contrast to our personal lives at that time. For some reason, known only to God, we were in the middle of some major struggles. Every single project my husband tried to start seemed to fall flat. Every idea he had fell apart. Every contact dried up, everything we thought we moved here to do closed the door on us. Spanning this string of disappointments was also an ever-present tension with the small group we were part of. It literally felt like the ground beneath us was crumbling. This situation was such a vivid contrast to our plants: we had no control over anything that was happening, even when we were trying to do all the good things God had called us to.

So, back to the roses. Two bucks can buy a nice pot of roses, so I chose several colors and congratulated myself on what a great gardener I was turning out to be.

Late one evening as Josh was out of town, I was doing some research about how exactly to care for these beauties. And over and over again, the idea of pruning came up. I’m not an expert on pruning, but the idea that you might have to cut off branches that had lovely blooms and were outwardly thriving seemed strange to me. However, one sentence I read stopped me cold:

Every cut of the bush determines its overall shape and health.

That was on a gardening website, not a “following Jesus” website, but wow! What truth was there. I couldn’t deny that as I read that sentence, I wasn’t thinking about the roses on the roof. I was thinking about all the lost opportunities, the good things that were being taken from us, the hard situations we were asked to walk through, the “blooms” of the ministry that were being cut off from us.

We were being pruned.

We were being pruned, because the gardener had a different shape in mind for us than the shape we looked like. There were some good branches, but they didn’t contribute to our overall health and shape. Off they went.

Pruning hurts. I know you’ve had it happen to you too. But remember what Jesus said:

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. (John 15:2)

Sometimes even the good things we are doing for him get pruned. It makes us ask “Why?” and cry “That’s unfair!” and perhaps even “Nooooooo!” But they are always pruned in exchange for something else: our overall shape and health, and his glory as the great gardener.

This image of his calculated and loving cuts became a comfort to us as we endured such a dry season of ministry. And even though we sometimes chafe under the watchful eye of the Gardener, I also got a glimpse of what happens when the gardener is absent.

When school started this fall and the bustle of education returned to our home, the garden was neglected for about 10 days. I went up to check on all my plants, fearing the worst. Though our climate can be cool and breezy, most of our plants bear the brunt of a full day of sun.

I was right to be concerned.

The roses were not only dry and crackly, but aphids, the pesky thorn in the side of gardeners everywhere, had invaded the roses. Black rot had eaten up the leaves. Buds that held such promise had shriveled before even opening.

That’s what it looks like when a garden is neglected.

We may not always love it when the gardener prunes us. His work in our lives may, and should, feel intrusive as he weeds out sin and self. We may even wish he’d look elsewhere and give us a respite from the trial that healthy growth requires.

My garden experiment has fizzled out as the carefree days of summer have given way to the scheduled days of school, but the lessons I’ve learned have been ones I’ll keep with me for years to come. Two of the most vivid pictures in my mind have come courtesy of those roses:

Every cut determines the overall shape and health.

No matter how much his attention hurts my flesh, his careful attention is exactly what I need to flourish.

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