The forsythias were beautiful this year. Blossoms cascaded. New shoots appeared. The brilliant yellow flowers shone like gold against the blue morning sky.
We were out of town for almost two weeks, and I knew that when I returned the yard work would be piling up, a never-ending list with boxes to check when each task was done. On that list (in my mind, so far, and not on paper) was the pruning of the forsythias.
Eager to get the latest and greatest information, I googled pruning forsythias. All seemed do-able until I read the section about aging shrubs. In order for the forsythia shrub to bloom more beautifully and bountifully, the branches needed to be cut one foot from the ground!
Well, I counted the years since the shrub was planted…it was over 70 years ago. My parents had built and lived in our house and had beautifully landscaped the yard. This shrub was well overdue for a radical pruning.
Out came the pruning shears and what I call the “lopper.” I was almost in tears as I cut off the branches that had had such beautiful blooms, but I knew that I just had to do this if the shrub was to be healthy and strong in the following years.
We have each experienced pruning in our own lives, cutting that bleeds, raw pain. Lost relationships, death, health issues, unexpected trouble, disappointment with life, infertility, children who hurt, diseases that cannot be treated successfully, loss of jobs.
The tougher pruning takes place deep within. Loss of control, anger with others and ourselves, questioning God, bitterness, envy of what others have that we do not, obsessing over things that leave us battle weary, void of joy.
Just when we think that we’ve been through enough, and the diseased branches are cut off so that we can be healthy, we know that the prime branches need to be cut to the ground. In Christian faith, this means becoming new again, losing what cannot give us what we really need.
In order for us to truly blossom and become more like Christ, we are cut down, and all of the things that appear beautiful and good are disposed of. It is then that we can become more fully ourselves as God intended us to be and grow in the right direction, producing more blossoms and fruit than ever before.
In spiritual terms, this is a work of the Holy Spirit within us, making us new from the inside out. Being reformed, even though painful, is for our good and ultimately good for those we serve. We no longer are ego-centered but other centered. We can maintain peace in the rough waters of life. We learn how to love without expecting anything in return. We find joy in the simplicity of life and do not need to encumber ourselves with things. Patience grows within us, and we wonder how it happened. We become more kind, more good, more faithful. We treat people with gentleness, and we have better self-control, perhaps listening more than speaking instead of wanting to share our knowledge or tell others off when we “know” they are wrong. Christians call this the fruit of the Spirit.
I recall a man I visited in the hospital when I was a chaplain. He shared about his faith life and what God was teaching him. He then showed me a tattoo on his arm that displayed the fruit of the Spirit. He then said, “I’ve accomplished all but two of these.” I looked at him, appalled! And then we both began to laugh because one of those remaining fruit had to do with humility! He then retraced his steps, realizing that God was doing the work. These were not accomplishments, and as you can see, he was in the hospital undergoing more pruning.
It is not, then, up to us to do the pruning. We allow it and are grateful for it, even when it hurts like hell because we know that ultimate beauty will come of it--eventually.