Every spring I catch this virus. I hear others get it too. It’s called ‘spring fever.’
As the flowers begin to bud and the days grow longer, my energy seems to build like the crescendo of a symphony. I begin to wake before sunrise and then don’t find myself settling down for dinner until it’s quite dark. Every moment of light seems precious, and I want to make good use of each one.
I also get this dreaded cleaning symptom. It’s as if the growing daylight shines through the walls of our house exposing spots on our carpet and materializing boxes of items that were somehow invisible during winter. Suddenly my wardrobe that clothed me well for over ten years looks alarmingly out of style. I go from, “What do you mean this type of plaid looks dated?” to “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I ever wore that!”
So, I start filling boxes to give away or dispose of, some with items I didn’t realize I owned. I become obsessed with clearing space. Nothing is safe.
This year, I took my game to a new level. I got tired of living in the shadows of limbs and leaves, coral trees and honeysuckles. They had grown so large, neighbors were talking about registering them in a gardening magazine. Never mind that our St. Augustine lawn, once lush and green, had died for lack of light.
Every time our puppy would race into the house from the back yard, she’d track in thick chunks of soil, stenciling our carpets from top to bottom with paw prints. On rainy days, you’d think the white bed spread in our bedroom was purchased in that pattern.
Don’t get me wrong. My wife and I loved the trees. We loved looking at them sway in the wind. We loved the red-orange flowers blossoming on honeysuckle limbs, and especially the humming birds that fluttered about searching for nectar. And, of course, we loved the shade of the Eucalyptus in the last days of summer when the temperatures often rise above 100 degrees in our town.
It’s just that our yard had become so overgrown their shade and dangers began to overshadow the benefit and beauty they provided. It was time to do something. It was time to prune.
Adding by Subtracting
I find it both mystifying and encouraging that the spiritual life often involves adding by subtraction. In Jesus’ famous passage about the vine and the branches, he says, “The Father removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
As I reflect on these words, they cause me to think about the work of pruning in the church. We are in an era where disciples and their congregations are being pruned by their Heavenly Father. The expressions of ministry which were once so life-giving and made so much sense to former generations (attitudes toward spirituality, where and how people gather, what people do during their free time, giving patterns, etc.), even the most fruitful forms of ministry, are being pruned. And let’s face it, pruning is painful! It involves letting go of things that have literally become a part of your life, and even aspects of your identity.
During my cleaning frenzy this month, I came across a large box in our garage. In it were fishing reels, a softball glove, a knee brace, and various other sporting-goods items. As I held the leather glove in my hand, I thought to myself, “What is this doing in here? I haven’t played in 20 years,” but in my gut, I felt like it was yesterday. I felt like someone switched on a video in my mind of ‘turning that perfect double play at second base’ or ‘hitting the ball right up the middle for the winning RBI.’ Holding the glove in my hand brought up those feelings. They were still very much a part of me.
In the life of faith, of course, it is not just things that become a part of us. It’s our extended family of friends, both living and with the Church Victorious, who have accompanied us through many celebrations and disappointments. It’s the music and liturgy that has helped us focus on God. And, it’s a way of thinking about the world. To have these things pruned for greater fruitfulness is a lot to ask.
When I go into the church of my youth, I don’t see empty pews, I see the ghosts of Liz Hom and LaV McLean and Sam Morton. I hear the music of centuries past and I’m fed by the creeds of the Reformation. They are all connected, so to have any element cut away is an aspect of discipleship that is hard for me to welcome, but it is what God uses to bear fruit. Thus, I cling to the vine of my faith, even Jesus.
Today, as I walk out onto our home’s patio, I see only sprays of sticks jutting up from the ground. They look gray and barren with hardly any leaves on them. I realize that my wife and I have done something radical by cutting them back so drastically. At the same time, the light is shining down, and tender shoots of grass are pushing their way through the soft earth.
In my mind’s eye, I can see the garden of the future. It is filled with flowers, and birds, and every good fruit. May it be so for all of us as we submit to and learn from God’s pruning.