It was a beautiful spring day, not too hot or too cold – just a perfect day for some outside work. I had been looking at our grouping of Rose of Sharon bushes that grow on one side of our yard. I knew it was time for their spring pruning and so I decided that today was the perfect day for that. I need a fair amount of time for that chore because I prune each branch by hand, one by one, as well as cleaning out underneath the bushes where weeds and volunteer plants grow at will. I took my garden utensils outside and began the clipping, standing back every now and then to be sure that I was keeping the height even or to see if I had missed a branch.
When Gary got home from work, he came outside to join me. There was one end of the bushes that needed some thicker branches cut out. Gary took a saw and cut that unwanted growth away. A little sawing here, more cutting there, and before long we were satisfied that this bush was complete and that our job was done. When I do this pruning, I always wonder if I’m cutting too much or too deeply or at the right time of the season. Every year, though, the growth returns in abundance and we are rewarded with beautiful blooms in shades of soft purple and gentle white.
As the weeks passed, I watched closely for the tiny little green leaves to appear that would signal to me that the pruning had been beneficial. Sure enough, as the days warmed even more, the sun shone brighter, and the spring rains fell, I began to see the new leaves emerge. Yet there was one area that was lagging behind. The bush on the end where Gary and I had cut out the extra growth, where Gary had done the deeper pruning, was still barren. As the other bushes started filling out, full of bright green leaves, this end was still empty and brown. It looked uglier as the days passed. The contrast was sharp as it stood starkly void of leaves – made even more barren and unsightly with the pretty green backdrop of the growing bushes around it.
I was sure that we had over-pruned this part of the Rose of Sharon. I wondered how the bushes would look after we cut this empty section away, which I was certain we would need to do. Almost daily I would examine the dull, brown branches and walk away, more convinced than ever that they would never grow at all, much less bloom with pretty flowers. But one day as I passed the bushes and stopped once again to observe them, I was surprised to see the tiny beginnings of growth. Yes, there it was! I was positive I saw the bulging of new leaves that were surfacing from the seemingly dead branches. As time went on, these bare branches began to be covered by miniature leaves that turned its stark ugliness into soft beauty. And one day, there it was! A flower! Just one so far, but a sign that this section has indeed come out of the deep pruning with growth and beauty.
I’ve pondered a lot lately about how many times our lives are like that Rose of Sharon. Sometimes God has some pruning to do, cutting away the unnecessary in order to shape us into what we need to be. This pruning is never pleasant, for pruning involves chopping and chopping usually hurts. Issues like pride, selfishness, immaturity……….so much unwanted growth in our lives must be severed in order for us to grow into maturity. And there are seasons when the pruning goes very deep. God knows when we need that extra pruning, the deep cutting and shaping that is even more painful than anything we have experienced before. It hurts………….hurts terribly……….and we can either trust our Master Gardener or we can turn away in rebellion and pain.
The hurt is even worse when others around us are apparently thriving, moving on with their lives and their ministries in obvious ways. We feel bland and unwanted, wondering why God is withholding our blessings and our desires. When will it be our turn to flower and blossom again? Why did God cut so profoundly? While others are healthy, and serving, and smiling, and glowing…………..we feel empty and brown and aimless. It’s so easy to look around us as we are surrounded by the green leaves and the gorgeous flowers of others, and to feel even more dead and unproductive. Yet God has a plan in the pruning! He is the perfect designer of our lives, and it’s in the suffering that we become useful and firmly established in His master plan.
James spoke about this matter of suffering in the familiar verses of James 1:2-4: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Isn’t it interesting that the word “various” mean “multi-colored?” Not one of us suffers the same as another. God has “multi-colored” ways of shaping and growing each of us. The word “perfect” means “maturity” and the word “complete” carries the idea of “full development.” So God is telling us to be joyful in the middle of the multi-colored trials that He uses in our pruning, knowing that in the end, if we allow it, we will mature into the full development that God desires.
In the cutting and the clipping, God is shaping us and growing us into maturity. Be patient. Know that “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” The vibrant leaves will emerge and the beautiful flowers will bloom again someday. Don’t let the weeds of doubt and bitterness crowd out what God is trying to accomplish. Be patient, and understand that suffering is what unites us to Christ. And who knows what new direction and new ministries may grow out of the deep pruning that God is performing in our lives at the moment. It may take time to see it but be patient, and one day you’ll be enjoying some lovely flowers that will show forth God’s glory!