This is really a combo lesson of two truths that came to mind while gardening. Unhealthy plants need pruning to help them grow, and perfectly healthy plants do too. Cutting the dead and weak parts off the unhealthy plants makes sense to me, and is easy to see how that is nurturing to a failing plant. I'm eager to remove the yucky stuff and leave a healthier, well-groomed little version of the struggler. But it is so hard for me to understand WHY it is good to cut back a thriving guy. After waiting to see growth for so long, after finally seeing some beautiful blooms on it, why on earth would I want to cut some of it away? Isn't that just moving backwards? Isn't the very best thing in life to always be moving forward? I have a suspicion that in God's story for us, the clear answer is "No," at least from our perspective.
Like a good garden-parent, I took my shears to the healthy guys. I had to tell the plants in my head, before I clipped, "This is for your own good!" Snip snip snip. Ouch. I feel the parallel in my own life way too closely. I think perhaps God feels this way when he prunes us, even when we're walking closely to Him, checking off the boxes, doing the jobs He's given us. It is never too long before the snip, "Here's one more thing we need to work on," He says. OK, Lord (eyes squeezed shut). Cut away.
My perspective is so limited because I see life on a sort of linear continuum: there is a backward, a present, and a forward. I only like moving forward (it's that efficiency thing again). But it seems to me that God doesn't know about the continuum. He takes a crazy, illogical path to get me from one stage to the next, and then takes 12 stops along the way to teach me stuff - maybe even the same exact lesson, 12 different times. He'll cut me back in one area, again and again, until the little bonsai in my heart looks just right to Him. I want to be pruned and hemmed in and rounded out. I do, deeply. It's just that I can never anticipate where God wants to take me on my journey with Him, and that feels unsettling. I have to constantly expect the unexpected. Of course He's set it up that way. It's not a cruel joke. It is so that I learn the most important thing I can learn: to completely depend on His plans for me, or I will begin to resist them. I have to trust that my Father knows what's best for me.
There are so many great verses to support these truths. I love Romans 8:28, Hebrews 12:5-11, and this one. These are the words of Jesus, using the same analogy of the garden, and speaking to me every time I'm in mine:
"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."
A loss of a few flowers now means an abundance of them later. So I'll keep going at my plants with the shears, and try to see the loss as moving forward in the long run. That is the irony of it all - even after the pruning, the healing, the painfully slow growth we experience, and then more pruning - it is all moving forward in God's eyes. His only goal is Christ-like character in me, no matter what path He and I take to get there. I'm joyfully along for the ride; I just sometimes wish He'd let me see the map.