I do yard work. Lots of yard work.
Seven years ago, we were very fortunate to buy a home that sits on two and a half acres. Most of the land is fully landscaped with beautiful year-round dark green fescue grass. The previous owner spent a fortune on trees, shrubs, ivy, ground cover, a beautiful stone-lined creek, and a waterfall providing the soothing sound of water rushing over rocks.
I’ll confess: I do not mow the the grass. There’s no way I have the time for that task, no way to dispose of what would be a truckload full of grass clippings each week, and no interest in having a lawn tractor occupy a space in the garage where I prefer a car to be. And, while I’m confessing, I also have help with the flowers twice a year.
I have chosen to keep the hedges and trees trimmed and the weeds pulled. I also manage the animals on the property; I manage their transportation off my property! Raccoons, skunks, armadillos, and coyotes--they’re all there. Thankfully, the coyotes run when they see people. The other varmints leave secured in cages after a can of food lures each of them safely away.
The yard and I often have a love-hate relationship. I don’t particularly like to spend hours on my hands and knees trimming ivy with a good pair of scissors. I consider the effort my monthly workout or yoga session and that makes it a little bit easier.
There are days it seems I will never get all the work done. But when it is done, the love shows up. I love sitting and looking at the results of my hard work. The yard provides me instant gratification: I can immediately see and appreciate the results of the work.
As a pastor working in the church, it sometimes takes weeks, months, or years before you have any indication that you are making headway. This is why so many pastors enjoy painting, building things, working on cars, or other hobbies, because you can fairly quickly see the fruit of your labor. There are some months I feel like the only tangible thing I’ve accomplished is manicuring the yard.
There are at least two observations that come to mind when I spend a day in the yard. First, I am always intrigued with the grass or other plant life grows through a crack in the middle of the driveway. There are a few places in the yard where I cannot find the right combination of water and sunlight to get something to grow. But, without any effort, something green pops through a crack in the driveway. It grows without any attention from me--no concern with sun or shade, no effort to provide water, and no plant food. Yet some of the best-looking grass is often found in the cracked driveway. Go figure.
The second--more profound--observation comes in realizing that the plants I prune or trim are always healthier than those left untouched. Trimming a row of eight-foot hollies always results in new and faster growth.
In John 15:1-2, Jesus says, “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.”
As I prune hedges and shrubs, I often wonder what kind of pruning my life needs. It is not too difficult to call to mind those areas of my life that will take over in a very unhealthy way if not consistently pruned. I think of those times in my walk with Christ when pruning must be done so I can grow even stronger.
While I don’t know if hollies have feelings or experience pain when trimmed, I can tell you that I’m well-acquainted with the pain of having Jesus do some pruning in my life. It’s easier to leave things alone. While choosing to not prune a shrub will not kill the plant, it will cause the plant to look unpleasant and unhealthy over time.
Before I learned the value of pruning a holly, I watched those plants grow, but not thrive. After too many seasons in which the pruning is skipped, that plant loses its natural beauty and looks tired or a bit sickly. And, after ignoring the much-needed pruning process over a long period of time, it is often too late to bring it back to its intended beauty.
I’ve learned to value the pruning that Jesus often does to my life. Pruning always has some degree of pain--it depends on how tightly I’m holding onto something that needs to be cut away. The more I allow any area of my life to be subjected to spiritual neglect, the more painful it will be when the pruning takes place.
It occurred to me last week that just as I sit back and enjoy the beauty of a well-manicured yard, and am so glad I took the time to do it, I realized that Jesus has a similar experience. When I welcome His careful pruning, He too sits back and looks at me, His child, and finds joy in how it all worked out.