One of the most difficult and daunting tasks gardeners face is that of pruning. After months of coaxing, tending, fertilizing, watering, and the like, working to get a plant to grow, there comes a time when the gardener needs to prune some branches. Pruning removes dead, damaged, or diseased branches from the plant and, in the long run, helps the plant to produce more flowers or fruit. Advice on when and how best to prune rose bushes varies to a degree but all the sources agree that rose bushes are fairly resilient and will recover from most pruning errors.
Over the past few years, I have been tending five rose bushes in the backyard garden. A few of them are of the sizeable Knockout variety. All spring and summer I nipped the flowers past bloom so that the rose bushes would produce more flowers. I watered and weeded around them, and encouraged them to grow. I hate to think that next spring I will have to cut some of the very branches I watched grow this year. Yet if the roses are to flourish—and flourish is the key word here—they will have to be pruned.
In his teachings, Jesus used pruning as a metaphor for the spiritual growth of his disciples. He said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. …My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:1- 2; 8).
Advent is a season in which we make room for God in our lives. Advent, in other words, is a season of pruning.
For generations of Christians, prayer, fasting, various forms of self-denial, examination of conscience, and subsequent confession of sins have been integral to the preparation for major days of celebration in the church calendar. The fact that these days were called “feasts” is no accident. They were days of celebration accompanied food, fun, family, friends, and fellowship. Feasts, the church must have realized, are like flowers on rose bushes, they flourish and bear fruit most after pruning.
How, then, do we go about this spiritual pruning? We begin by turning away from the things that we know separate us from the love of God. We repent, we turn away from, things we know are not good for us, not good for those around us, and not good enough for God. We open our hearts and minds to God and pray that God will allow us to let go of the branches in us that need to be cut and discarded.
We also may need to forgive those who have hurt us. When we are unable to forgive we carry the weight of that around with us wherever we go. We again should open our hearts and minds to God and pray that God will help us to forgive so that we can let go of these branches that need to be cut and discarded.
In one of the prayers of confession in the Book of Common Prayer, we confess the sinful “things we have done” and “the things we ought to have done.” Spiritual pruning may involve eliminating some of the internal clutter in our lives so that we are ready and able to respond to the new things to which God is now calling us. It may be painful to let go of those old branches, but when we do we are more able to bear fruit.
Pruning helps us flourish, flower, and bear fruit. Perhaps it’s time for you to do some spiritual pruning this Advent.