This spring, our three backyard Manitoba maple trees needed pruning. I received a crash course on trees from the arborist we hired for the job. Craning my neck upwards, I listened as he opened up the world of trees to me. He explained which limbs he would prune and why. I had a sudden desire to become an arborist myself as I listened to the wise details of his trade. His business is aptly named “Long Term Growth”.
Normally, I love pruning — whether it’s unruly hair that begs to be cut, sentences that need editing, or trees that need trimming, there’s something about weeding out what is not giving life that seems so beneficial. I have become an amateur in all three areas.
When it comes to the deeper pruning of unhelpful aspects or habits of my life, the process can be tougher, but just as needed. As electric and handheld saws began to thin out the trees, I played “spot that metaphor” and reflected on the pruning in my own life in the last year and a half.
The pruning of my teaching job was filled with much consultation and prayers. Just like the wise arborist pondering my maple trees, I had people gently saying to me, look friend, this limb is not sustaining life anymore, maybe it’s time… It wasn’t the easiest pruning to make peace with, but time has shown that it was necessary and helpful for my own long term growth.
Leaving full-time work was just the beginning. Now that the big, obvious branches have been cut, it seems that the pruning is more subtle. My mantra has become “less is more” and I keep having to make decisions, large and small, of what to cut out as I learn to avoid headaches. More branches are being pruned all the time.
Ever since I learned that my headaches are not just physical in origin, I’ve become a bit of a detective, searching for clues. I have this long time habit which friends jokingly call my 911 tendency. I tend to project a calm exterior so people might not guess it, but I overplay the emotional dramas of life, engaging in histrionics. Like a druggie’s quick fix, it’s an unhelpful habit which really only serves to distract and prevent me from tapping the deeper roots of life.
Sitting in my meditation room, this troubling habit is becoming more clear to me. When a headache flare-up happens, I am learning not just to ask for sympathy, but to ask myself, and the friends who know me well, whether I’m somehow feeding it. I’m learning that regular pruning is essential.
To do this requires humility, acknowledging that I’m not just a victim. But it’s something I deeply desire. Not only do I want to become well physically, I also want to be tethered securely to my deepest values, which for me rest in following Jesus.
Last Sunday I was asked to share reflections with my house church from the gospel of Mark 5:21-43. It’s a story, actually two stories, about Jesus performing two miracles. One of them is a woman who was bleeding for 12 years. She spent all her money on physicians, and not only did she not get better, she got worse (a story that I could identify with)! She was at the end of her rope, physically as well as socially since she was one of society’s untouchables. In her desperation, she reached out and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. She was immediately made well!
But when Jesus stopped in his tracks and asked who touched him, she felt she was busted. An unclean person wasn’t supposed to touch anyone, let alone a holy man, but Jesus didn’t think like that. The social taboos of the day were manmade, not from God. Earlier in Mark, he said, “I came for those who are sick, not those who are well.”
Scripture says she came out of the shadows and “told him the whole truth”. In response, Jesus wished her peace and to be well permanently. Her shame was gone and she was restored to the community.
But he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go home in peace, and be free from your trouble.” Mark 5:35
The phrase about telling “the whole truth” has stayed with me. I too want to be honest before God and my friends and confess my anger or my people pleasing. The stillness of the meditation room invites me to take a deep breath and quiet my reactions, quiet my thoughts, quiet the struggle, and go deeper.
And then I can pray, trusting that God the wise arborist is lovingly pruning those branches which are not life-giving. If the power saws sound alarming, I can remember that God only does this out of love and a desire for my long term growth. Then, like our lovely backyard maples, the wind of the Spirit can blow through my life with more ease and freedom. I’m so glad God wishes peace for all our gnarled limbs.