I don’t have a green thumb. When I first met my husband, he gave me a cute potted miniature rose. One morning, I put it on the patio for some sun, and promptly forgot about it… until a week later. Alas, the tiny rose was no match for the fierce California sun. Needless to say, my husband never gave me plants again. My dad, however, grew up on a farm, and plants thrive under his care. Recently, I wanted to plant a rose in the backyard of our new home. With my dad’s help, we planted a healthy and robust rose bush. The first bloom was glorious! The beautiful blossoms were as big as a grapefruit, and bloomed for days. After the flowers wilted, I continued to water and care for the plant. However, when some of the leaves started to shrivel and yellow. I knew something was wrong.
The leaves continued to wither, and there were no more rose buds. Roses don’t just bloom once a year. With the right conditions, they will bloom all year long. One day, my dad stopped by and saw my roses. He knew immediately it was not doing well, and suggested the unthinkable – that I prune the branches, especially where the flowers have bloomed.
What? Cut off the branches where the roses bloomed so beautifully? If the leaves were already withering, can the plant handle any more trauma like pruning? It was completely counter intuitive to me. I couldn’t bear the thought of chopping off parts of my little plant when it already seemed so weak. But, I trusted my dad’s expertise. After the initial shock wore off, I followed his suggestion and chopped off the branches.
The little rose bush was reduced to half its original size. However, it didn’t take long before the new shoots appeared. I was amazed. In a few days time, multiple branches grew out filled with healthy leaves and glimmers of new rose buds. I’ve heard of the pruning process before. However, there’s nothing like watching an ugly stump transform into vibrant and gorgeous blooms to drive home the power of pruning.
As I soaked in the beauty of my roses, my thoughts drifted to a season in my life when I also felt like a lifeless stump. Ironically, it was when I started seminary. Back then, I felt drained and discouraged in all areas of life – at work, at home, and even at church. I moved out of state and joined a seminary program that was purposed for rest and self-development.
I settled in and quickly joined worship and prayer ministries like I did before. However, I soon realized something was wrong. I used to feel a great spiritual connection with God when I led worship and prayer meetings, but these feelings were no longer there. God grew quiet. My anointing ceased, and I stopped participating in these ministries. With nothing left outwardly to affirm my spirituality, I also felt like my flowering branches were chopped off. I, too, felt like an ugly stump.
Without the distractions of outward ministry, I had no choice but to focus on my school program which included copious amounts of private reflection time. I felt like I was in the desert – out of my natural elements. But, God leads us to the desert so He can speak kindly to us. (Hosea 2:14) While I didn’t have much opportunity nor ability for public ministry, I soon discovered that God was awaiting me in my time of solitude. Whenever I was alone, I became aware of His presence and His delight for me. He was playing hide and seek; drawing me to come find Him in the secret place.
As God pruned off my public ministry life, I started to develop a new relationship with God – one that was not related to ministry nor service for others. This new relationship was one between God the Father and His young daughter. I began to experience and learn about the tenderness and favor of God. I discovered His delight when I was simply being me. During those two years, it may seem like I didn’t accomplish much from the outside, but inwardly, I was transformed. I found a new level of intimacy with God.
Looking back, those two pruning years in seminary were pivotal times for me. I learned how to relate to God as His beloved daughter, and not just as His servant. I learned that His affection and approval of me is not based on what I do nor my “performance” as a Christian. All along, He’s been trying to teach me these values, but I was too wrapped up in my old perspective. My heart and my Spirit were ready for a transition, but my mind couldn’t let go of the old and familiar. To help me change, He shifted my circumstances. He cut off the things I needed to let go, and gave me a brand new paradigm.
Over the years, I’ve also seen friends go through similar circumstances. In one case, a friend lost his job in his fifties. Finding a new job in one’s fifties is rather difficult. While working in his yard one day, he also sensed God affirming him that he is in a “season of pruning.” After a long job search, he eventually got a position where he had to start from the bottom up. He had to set aside his old work accolades, and start anew. Gone were the glamorous title, peer respect and cushy benefits. Many people, including my friend, couldn’t understand God’s purpose in that situation. However, God has declared His intention for my friend – this will be a season of pruning.
In such a season, God will close some doors in his life to prepare him for the next step. From the outside, his life will appear very different than before. To some, it may even seem like God has abandoned him. However, what others won’t see is that this pruning season is meant for building and transformation. It is a place of hiddenness. God is using such drastic measures because He intends to do a deep work, and it will require us to let go of our past glories and trust the leading of the Shepherd. And when my friend re-emerges, he will be transformed by God from the inside out.
The Christian life has an ebb and flow. Contrary to our social-media culture, God is not concerned about our outer appearance or performance. He is interested in building us and developing us for the long haul. He is interested in helping us grow into the fullness of what He created us to be. No matter what season comes next, I hope I will always remember to seek the divine perspective and rest in the comfort and goodness of my God.