They say pruning is good for the health of the plant. I bet the plant feels differently.
Despite the glamorous alternate reality that is sometimes hailed as possible from the big and small screens, the truth is that life is hard. I find myself remembering the words of the great Dread Pirate Roberts:
Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. – From The Princess Bride
Not that life is only pain. Far from it. But there are definite periods where it seems like the only reason you know you are still alive is the pain. People, especially those in religious communities, call these periods by different names. The last several months as I’ve been going through a painful phase of my life, I’ve been thinking of it as pruning.
When I repurposed my blog I decided to focus on encouraging others to pursue blooming in all areas of their life. Unfortunately, in order to promote the growth of new blooms you’ve gotta prune.
Why? It helps prevent disease, allowing for better circulation which reduces the risk of black spots and powdery mildew. Things we’d all like to avoid.
It’s easy to justify the need to cut dead and diseased branches off a rose bush. The need for drastic action is clear to us. It’s harder to understand when life cuts something, or many things, from your life.
I know for many Christians, the belief in God’s sovereignty is a constant source of encouragement. For me, the doctrine of His sovereign will and care is more a mixture of confusion and comfort. Sometimes the one is stronger than the other.
Even though I know in my mind, and often believe in my heart, that God is using the pain He has allowed and/or brought into my life for good, I can’t help but ask the questions:
Isn’t there another way? Couldn’t you bring out about whatever good you are working to accomplish with something less difficult? Or maybe even something pleasant?
I got reminded by my brother that Jesus asked similar questions of God before He went to the cross.
Holy week I plan on writing a blog post devoted to the importance of the Cross in my faith, but here’s a sneak peak:
God told Jesus “No” in order to recuse us because He loved us. A “Yes” would have meant ease for Jesus but judgment for us. Knowing that God has used great suffering to bring about immense good in the past helps me trust that when He says “No” to me, He has my good in mind, even if it doesn’t look like it.
Why is pruning necessary? Isn’t there another way one could promote growth?
I don’t have solid answers, but I have experience. While pruning is far from fun, I’ve seen how it has shaped me. It’s much easier to say when the experience is past and you’re basking in the glow of new growth.
It’s harder when you are in the midst of things. If you’re anything like me, it’s especially hard when it seems like everyone else around you is flourishing.
With this pruning session, I’ve been finding myself asking less of “Why did You let this happen?” and more of “How do I survive this?” These are some of the things I’ve learned from family, friends, and counselors.
1) Reject labels
It’s easy to feel as though my particular struggle is written on a sticky note and posted to my forehead, demanding attention every moment from everyone I interact with. And while some of my well-meaning friends are tempted to operate that way, for the most part, my community has encouraged me to remember I am more than what I am struggling with.
It’s taken a while to believe that, and while there are still times when I feel like all I can focus on is which branches God is cutting back, I’ve had days when I’ve been able to focus on areas that are particularly strong right now, like my desire to draw.
2) Take the work of recovery seriously
The last several months have been very difficult for me and the process of working through things has brought about a period of depression. Since I struggle with putting my identity in how much I accomplish in a day, it’s been very discouraging to experience weeks where I feel like I get nothing done, or to consider a “good” day when I get a couple solid hours of work in.
My depressive episodes are better or worse depending on my to-do list. This can cause massive spirals if I am feeling down and then have a less than productive (by my somewhat excessive standards) day.
The other week my counselor told me that recovery is work. I’m not a master gardener (or really any kind of gardener) but from what I understand, rosebushes typically don’t get pruned when they are in the height of blooming. They are cut back when they are finished with their season and can rest, get stronger and grow.
Even though they aren’t producing buds or blooms, they are still working.
In periods of sorrow, trials, and difficulty, sometimes the greatest thing you can accomplish in the day is pressing on. That takes work and tenacity and is being productive. I don’t need to compare myself to what I was able to get done before or to what others are accomplishing now. With God’s help, I can push myself to do what I need to do and trust Him enough with everything else if I need to spend my time journaling, or resting, or talking.
3) Live moment by moment
Try as I might, as I gaze into the future and try to plan my life or guess at how the issues I am facing will resolve themselves, I cannot know how God is going to shape me.
That often frustrates me. I wish God would just tell me: “This is what life is going to look like. This is how I am going to bring something beautiful out of this pain.” But He doesn’t.
That gives me two options: I can worry and fret, or I can trust Jesus with my future and focus on one day at a time.
This is probably the one I’m struggling with the most right now. I am a fast results gal. Waiting around is not my style. What I’m learning, and trying to remember, is that I don’t have to wait around. Even in the face of uncertainty, I can be proactive throughout my days by focusing on what I need or want to get done that day, living moment by moment instead of getting lost in the face of the unknown.
When I do that, I get writing and drawing done, compose e-mails and grants, read books and take naps, or some combination depending on my energy. The amount of writing, e-mailing, and reading is still less than what my peak was before, but at least I’m still making progress, instead of wallowing in worry.
4) Encouragement from others is vital
My sister has written a very honestly about mental illness on her blog The Doctor Dances. She has been such an encouragement to me. In particular, she pointed me to this TED Talk video “How to get stuff done when you are depressed”. I’ve never met this lady, but listening to her speak was extremely helpful in figuring out how to even attempt to function at this difficult time.
I strongly recommend it.
Whether it comes from a youtube video, a sister, or close friends, getting support and encouragement from others is vital.
5) Pruning as a way of thriving
As I said, I don’t really know why God chooses to allow difficulty to come into our lives to teach us things. The typical reasons don’t satisfy me. But I am trying to embrace the reality that pruning is a good thing, even if it hurts.
Even if I don’t understand it, I can survive it, and with God’s help, I will even thrive in it.
I hope that this post is an encouragement to you if you are in the midst of difficulty and feeling overwhelmed by it. None of these lessons have changed my situation, but they have helped to change my mindset and attitude which has made the pruning more bearable.
Here’s to when spring (or summer, depending on the variety of rose) comes in its fullness and brings us back to a season of blooms!