I struggled to wake up this morning. Coffee in hand, stretching towards some greater level of consciousness, I prowled around the house. Sank into the couch, wrapped in a quilt, to catch a bit of the local, pre-“Today Show” news about traffic jams and incoming rain while I waited for David’s bus to arrive.
I dozed off.
I woke up again, the second time seeming to take a bit better than the first.
In the midst of the morning routine, I sat down and read these words:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He 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.”
This is Jesus speaking, from the writings of John, chapter 15. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, this is admittedly a powerful visual statement of His relationship with God and the implied health of our connection with God through Christ.
I have read and heard these verses many times, almost always in a rush to get to those that follow: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” These words have always showered down upon my head in the middle of a passionate message about staying close to Jesus, reading the Bible, praying without ceasing, etc.
But so often these days, I’m looking past – or in front of – the obvious, the familiar and the known. I’m looking a little deeper. I hear that often about our church; people complain and even leave because they want something “deeper“, which amuses me on a personal level, because as God continues to shift me on my self-absorbed, narcissistic axis, a new perspective leads me every time to something “deeper”. I’m often stunned at how easily accustomed I am to words that I’ve heard in church for years, to the degree that they slip right by me, devoid of any power, because I’ve heard it all before. It’s the new, fresh, often overlooked stuff that is taking me to a deeper point in my spiritual journey than ever before.
The point is, I read the first two sentences of this chapter and stopped. I could go no further.
I have some friends who are in the process of being pruned right now; they are in a season of growth, reevaluation, reexamination, reclamation. God is whispering and they are listening. The Spirit is nudging and they are responding. In all cases – four, to be exact – I have witnessed tears and heart-wrenching sorrow, emotional responses of pain and loss and grieve and fear that are almost paralyzing. I find myself inadequate, inept, with nothing left to offer but my presence, a Kleenex and some Oreos and ice cream.
This is new territory.
In the middle of the pain of this season, I caught hold of this verse, and it occurred to me that the beauty in the pain, the sorrow from the ashes, might well start with the incredible honor of being chosen.
“Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
There is a promise of hope and potential and Presence in that sentence that, today, is as powerful as any other statement of faith. Those pithy statements like, “God will never leave you or forsake you; God never gives you more than you can bear; and lo, I am with you always; God is my strength and my shield” – those are strong, to be sure.
But to know that you are chosen to be “pruned” – reduced, cut back, trimmed – because of what your life has borne thus far, in order to possess a life that is even fuller and more productive?
That’s a holy thing, I think, even in the pain; perhaps even a large part of this sanctification process that we enter into when we start chasing the Goose.