Wednesdays with Jillene: pruning

I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

John 15:1-2

Those verses begin a very familiar chapter in the book of John. Jesus, in stunning analogy, relates himself to the vine and us to the branches. And as this section of scripture works to God perfect message we see Jesus call us to remain in him, to obey him… so that we may have joy filled to overflowing in us. Then… then we come to something even more astounding, John chapter 15 verse 15, “ I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. ” Jesus tells the disciples he calls them: friend.

John chapter 15 has often been a passage I turn to for comfort, encouragement, redirection and instruction. But I can’t say I used to spend much time in verses 1 and 2… but since November I have and now I can’t forget those words, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (emphasis mine)

I can’t forget these words because they are frighteningly comforting and reassuringly terrifying. Quite the oxymoron to be sure… but let’s see if I can help it make some more sense. Maybe if we take a look at my orchid we’ll get some clarity.

I bought this “Just Add Ice Orchid” for myself near Mother’s Day last year. I guess you could say I succumbed to the strategic end of the customer experience science Walmart employs to coerce us into purchase we had no intention of making. Anyway… I bought it for myself and truly enjoyed months of beautiful blooms with the minimal care of feeding it one ice cube a week. My kind of plant right there.

And then one day it happened.

A shriveled flower made an unexpected appearance. I was accustomed to the plant always being in perfect bloom. Almost in unavoidable horror, each day brought more dead flowers, until they were all gone. There stood my plant with just an empty stem where once colorful flowers bloomed seemingly ever-present.

Time went by and the stem stood empty… and I wondered: is that all? Will the blooms never come back?

So I looked up the webpage on the card that came with the flower. What hope would I find for my plant? Instead I found something even more horrifying than losing all this gorgeous flowers:

I had to prune off the entire stem!

The plant wouldn’t be stimulated to grow again until that stem was gone. Which, if you ask me, seemed like insult added to injury! With shaking hands, I cut off the stem. And then a few days later I had to cut off the rest because I didn’t cut the whole thing the first time. Just couldn’t bring myself to do it… seemed wrong at first. How could cutting off the only thing on that whole plant that had ever born a flower possibly be the right thing to do?

I wish I had taken pictures of that plant last year in bloom and even more so I wish I had pictures/video of me cutting off the stem and the poor, barren plant.

Then I waited. Week after week I would feed it an ice cube. Turn it on the window sill to give light to all sides.

Then one day it happened, kind of snuck up on me, a brand new shoot had formed.

Just like the instructions said, pruning the old stem triggered reblooming. The only way to get blooms was to get rid of the stem that had served its purpose.

In God’s perfect timing, I had reread John 15:1-2 not long after choosing to prune that stem.

I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

John 15:1-2

In November, I wrested with these two verses and I looked at my plant, hoping to see it grow… all the while wondering if I had done the right thing. Could new blooms come from a plant where I had cut off the only stem I had ever seen?

But last month a new stem grew and this month the orchid is again filled with flowers.

Over the winter God has not only shown himself faithful in His creation this orchid but in me as well. What a blessing to have God show evidence of Himself the creator in His creation!

How many times have I faced the truth of verse 2 knowing that it makes sense that God would prune away branches that don’t produce fruit! I have a basic understanding of that in plants, an unfruitful branch will be a drain on the whole plant. Yet, how often do I resist God as He prunes away something that is not producing fruit in me?

For some reason, until last November, I barely gave the second half of verse 2 much attention, “and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” To be honest, I think it was a reality I wasn’t ready to face and a truth I couldn’t yet bear. But God is good and as he used my orchid to teach me the truth found here, my heart was open to the truth I so desperately needed to hear.

It is seemingly cruel to cut off a branch that is bearing fruit. Maybe not when it comes to gardening but when it comes to me as a person. Can you relate? That it seems almost unfair when God takes away something from my life that has been good, fruitful, productive, growing… Why would He choose to cause me pain?

I know I’ve thought words just like those, even uttered prayers brimming with bitterness. Especially when I look around and see others who still get to have what I’ve lost.

“and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

The reality of that scripture stings a little. We’d better acknowledge that. It stings when something good is taken away. When the pruning happens to us, the promise of what the future will hold often doesn’t outshine the present pain.

So we brood… we get angry… we feel lost… bitterness sets in… we feel abandoned… unsure… confused… empty…  betrayed… so many feelings and thoughts race through our mind. Didn’t I do what was right? Why am I being punished?

Because we can’t see. We can’t see that God is the true gardener who is trustworthy, knowledgeable, and faithful.

What “good” things in your life has God taken away?

How have you responded to His pruning in the past?

How does this verse and the story of my orchid change how you’ll respond now or in the future?

Because, let me tell you another thing. MANY people who have a Just Add Ice Orchid that loses all blooms, guess what they do? They throw it away, dispose of it. I’m serious. They just give up on that plant. The webpage admits most people aren’t interested in doing any more when the blooms die off the plant!

How many of us, when God prunes us also respond in like kind?

Instead of abandonment, what my orchid needed was my constant care in the months of rest as it prepared to bloom again. I had to feed it, keep it warm, rotate it… even when it seemed dead. Trust me, I had started to think the green leaves seemed a little waxy and even wondered if they were fake and this whole thing was months of pointless waiting.

And then the new shoot came out of nowhere and new bud then blooms filled my window sill again.

But what if I had given up? Moved on? Found a new plant to take its place?

So many times that is what we choose to do when God prunes us. Unable to see His plan. Unwilling to submit to His perfect will. Unsure of the future when life’s current view seems bleak.

What would it look like to live trusting in the true gardener of our lives? How would it look to live after a pruning to still wake up day after day and feed my mind, guard my hearts, and protect my spirit?

That’s what living out faith looks like, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews chapter 11 shows us that in the lives of the great cloud of witnesses who’ve gone before us.

We’re back to those oxymorons: frighteningly comforting and reassuringly terrifying.

Because the reality is that growing is often not what we would view as safe. If we think it is going to be straight forward, no twists and turns, always as we’d planned… well… then I think we’ve forgotten who really is the true gardener of our lives.


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