I started class today with a writing prompt for my students: How have you changed since the beginning of this school year? Do you like who you are becoming? Why or why not?
It’s a vulnerable question, maybe one I shouldn’t ask after only three class sessions together. But we only have seven weeks here, in this sacred space of a classroom, and I want our time together to point to Truth. I want our minutes talking about writing and words to be bubbling out of some place deeper than my own expertise and training. I don’t want to be the center of the classroom. I want Jesus to be.
And so I ask hard questions.
And they respond.
Two students raised their hands to read their responses aloud today; one of the students mentioned that she was living on the vine but felt the pruning work that was being done on her life.
She was referencing John 15; it’s Jesus, here, saying these words:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
In tree language, pruning is the act of cutting off some of the branches for the benefit of the rest of the tree. Often, it is the dying branches that are pruned, or the diseased branches. They are pruned–cut off–so that new growth can occur.
And here is the startling realization: Jesus told his friends the truth–that those closest to him, those walking with him and bearing great spiritual fruit for the Kingdom? They are the ones who get pruned. It feels so backwards; those walking with Jesus are the ones who get things cut off, tossed aside?
Yes. Because cutting away the old is often the only way for new, healthy growth to occur.
I thanked my student her for her honesty. And what came tumbling out of me there, in front of the class, was this:
“Sometimes it feels like the pruning will kill us, doesn’t it?”
The student nodded. Others nodded with her.
This pruning–those places where God starts cutting away the things we don’t want to let go of, the things we feel like we need–it can be so hard. So heart-wrenching. So painful. It can feel like what is being taken away is more than we can bear, is more than we want to bear.
I think of this season in my own life; the ways that old things are being cut away in order to make way for the new. We are moving to a new town; my sense of security and home in our current city is being cut away. We are leaving our jobs; my sense of identity in what I do is being cut away. My husband will be a full-time student; our consistent income is being cut away. And there are moments, days, even, where I don’t want to do this. I want to walk with Jesus more than anything, but leaving everything we have and everything we know–the cost feels so very, very high. It feels like dying to so much of what I love and what I want.
But good tree pruners, I’ve learned, know that the tree can’t handle much pruning at a time. Little by little, with time in between to heal–that’s how a tree is pruned well. And I am sure of this, that God is a good pruner. He is love itself. He knows just what we need and he also can see the good that is coming from our pruning, even if we can’t.
And I spoke to my class. It feels like the pruning will kill us sometimes, but there’s better news: “We won’t be killed by it. Because there has already been One who was killed on our behalf.”
Jesus, the Vine we are to stay connected to–He is the One who took our ultimate death. He did that so that the smaller things we die to here on this earth–things that are truly painful, that truly cost us much–He died so that our pain here won’t end in pain. His resurrection leads us to real life, abundant life, eternal life. And His presence with us gives us the strength to walk through this current pain knowing that it won’t kill us; He has already been killed for us.
There are days when the pruning feels like too much. I know it, too. But as we walk toward this Easter, let us remember: death has been defeated, the grave overcome with life. In these days that can feel so difficult, we will not be undone. Christ is with us, Christ is for us. His death paid for ours. Though we are being pruned, we are not being killed. We are being offered the truest life–life found in Christ, life that never ends.