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[God] 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. — John 15:2
Here in the Northeast the trees are bare, their basic structure unhidden by leaves, ready for pruning. As soon as the weather warms a few more degrees I’ll be in the orchard, cutting off damaged branches so they don’t spread infection to the rest of the tree, cutting back some healthy branches so that what remains has access to light and room to bear fruit.
At first I hated pruning and thought ruefully about what fruit might have grown on each bit of branch I removed. I felt the same way about thinning my carrots. It only took one growing season to show me what happened when I didn’t thin—a bed full of scrawny, undersized carrots choking each other out. It took longer to see the importance of tree pruning, but eventually I was convinced.
I’m still learning this in my own life. I cling fiercely to all of my projects, plans, dreams and opinions. . . and over and over I am surprised to find myself stressed, barren and out of touch with the Spirit’s movement. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Our society tells us to realize our potentials, be all we can be, be constantly connected, seize every opportunity. But in fact we can’t ‘be all we can be.’ We contain too many possibilities, too many gifts, too many desires. We can’t fulfill them all. We have to choose what matters most and let go less essential things to make a space around it. At first the letting go is hard. It feels like giving up. It feels like dying. The fruit isn’t visible yet.
For this reason I am grateful for Lent. This season reminds us that we are called to leave the structures that provide apparent safety and comfort while keeping us enslaved, and to go out into the wilderness as the Israelites did after escaping Egypt. We are called to leave the false securities of our society; this is one of the inspirations for an off-grid life based on faith. We are also called to leave our own personal cravings and defenses behind. We are called to die with Christ so that we can enter into new life.