Pulling Vines: Landscaper of Our Hearts
Jul 24, 2016 04:42AM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Pulling with everything in me, I grabbed hold of some stubborn vines declaring war on my pachysandra and yanked away. The morning sun beat down with increasing intensity and my muscles pulsed in ways they hadn’t all winter, yet my focus remained steady and determined.
I’ve had enough of weeds choking me over the years. They crept in silently. I would ignore and eventually get used to them, not really seeing how big they were becoming—until one day I couldn’t see past them. I was horrified how they seemed to tower over all healthy growth in my life.
The same was true when I went to the mailbox one day. I saw an overgrown, out-of-control forsythia bush and almost didn’t recognize my own yard. My stomach turned. I was disgusted that I had let my lawn get that trashy, that I lost my vision for intruders, and that I’d let my guard down, given up, lost my fight.
Know the feeling?
I look back to a year ago when the repercussions of years of long drives to therapy, IEP battles, and the neverending search for new answers, avenues to explore, and home coping strategies for one of my children had beaten me down. My entire family was coming unglued. My feeling-neglected older children were brewing a fresh pot of resentment while I had to care for one needier bird in the nest. This went on for years. My husband was travelling frequently, so the burden was falling on me, and yet everyone held me responsible for every piece of fallout. My father had taken ill again, and I slipped into a numb existence. Feeling just took too much out of me. Joy had jumped out the window and run to a bordering state.
When I look back now, as the events and circumstances all unfolded, I see a great pruning. I see God extending His mighty muscles on my behalf to pull out the heavy, demanding, difficult overgrowth weighing me down and stealing my very air. It was so painful, and I resisted, but He loved me enough to wrestle those strongholds on my behalf—both 2,000 years ago on the cross in a permanent, eternal sense and in the now.
Job knew this full well. He had experienced much suffering as God allowed Satan to mess with him and test his faith, and yet, when it came down to it, he spoke a truth that pretty much sums up the blink of our lives from birth to death.
Job 1:21, ESV, Job speaking
And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
We sing a chorus in church based on this verse, and it strikes me every time: God gives us what we have; He takes away when it’s time, but He never changes. Blessed be His name.
Pruning in our lives is like that. We don’t always understand it. We may pull back, wanting to hold onto those vines for dear life because even though they are slowly stealing from us, they are:
- Disguising themselves as filling a need only God can
It doesn’t matter if it’s workaholism, an addiction, relationships, or anything else we derive our value and self-worth from; initially, by itself it may not be bad and did not start out as destructive, but as soon as we let it take first place in our lives, we give it permission to take root and spread.
When it starts to define us, we are not abiding in the true Vine.
John 15:5, ESV, Jesus speaking
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.
What about you? Did you turn around and suddenly discover other vines were grabbing at you, pulling you away from true growth, health, and strength?
Those first hot summer mornings, I became angry when I saw, with new eyes, just how much territory I had allowed those unruly vines to claim in my yard. I grabbed my garden tools and headed out completely committed to setting my trees, shrubbery, and ground cover free. I waged war out there among ticks, mosquitoes, rodents, and beetles to pull out what didn’t belong.
Despite my thorough check for poison ivy, I felt so dirty. I went inside and scrubbed with Fels-Naptha. I had dirt in my fingernails and cuts on my legs from thorns.
We weren’t created for the tendrils that choke life out of us as they wrap themselves around us, and yet, since the Garden of Eden, they do.
On the cross, Jesus, our one true Vine, waged holy war against those enemies for us. He took scrapes and thorns, wrestling the unhealthy overgrowth to make us clean again.
He did that then, for eternity, and He still does it now for us, in the day to day.
I apparently needed a good landscaping overhaul, because personally, I experienced loss on some significant levels this past year.
But you know what? Here’s what happens. He takes away the trash, the dead clippings, but
He always sends life-giving replacements.
As he weeded and cut back my own personal hedges, here’s what fell off:
- Impatience—He taught me to listen for him and wait!
- Self-focus—He wanted me to care more for those who hurt me than for myself. Wham! That was a hard one.
- Self-reliance—He showed me that while I can be very strong and independent, when I submit to His wisdom and guidance, there is a better, healthier, more peaceful path set before me.
- Empty busyness—He trained me in the art of “Be Still.” I had taken this course before but apparently was ready for the next level.
As He stripped me of what and whom I thought I could rely on, I discovered what I took to be flowers were really creepers holding me back from a more complete relationship with Christ. What I thought I wanted—or needed—was suddenly exposed for what it really was.
I recently taught my 16 year old son how to trim our bushes and trees back to acceptable sizes before overtaking our yard. Painting in one of the upstairs bedrooms, I had a perfect view of his new confidence in some mild landscaping. Like me, he took some satisfaction in standing his ground and claiming back our yard, setting boundaries for what was allowed to take up more space and what wasn’t.
His muscles are only beginning to feel the struggle of that, and yet, I saw him as a beautiful reminder of how God wants the best for us, and He will give and take away according to His purposes for us and His heart to love us through gently pruning and shaping.
I left it up to my son to discern where our yard was becoming too unruly and to take measures as he saw fit.
Will you yield in the same way to a loving Father who wants what’s best for you, even in the moments when the landscaping feels unwanted—and maybe even a bit invasive?
All I know is that when we let Him do this, suddenly we aren’t entangled in destructive or distracting activities and relationships.
And we are amazingly free to grow toward the Son.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.