Trees. Really, life would not be quite the same without them. A tree is a source-of-life poster child, season banner waver, emblematic proclaimer of his handiwork. And a great source of entertainment for children given the chance to use their imaginations. Remember what those are? I feel like mine rebelled against me starting around age 12, when playing dolls, house, school, and runaway orphans all lost their luster.
My seven-year old daughter is at the tip of her imagination iceberg, discovering all the joy that comes with story play. Her particular tale of preference is anything fairy-related. So that is how the giant evergreen tree in the front yard—with the branches skirting around the bottom—became the perfect fairy home.
As the lead imaginer in the family, her fairy stories unfolded day after day. Before the bus came and after school, fairy things happened under the fairy tree. Sister fairies sang songs. Brother fairy collected sticks, because apparently fairies also need weapons to ward off whatever it is that fairies consider a threat. Baby fairy caused trouble. All the little fairies made soup with bark and pine cones and other essential items for a good stew.
This particular tree became beloved above all other trees. Until it happened.
Our front yard is not actually ours. We rent a home from a church, and the front yard juts into their parking lot and property. The good citizens of the church had a seasonal clean up day when they did not see the fairy tree as a fairy tree, but as a tree in need of a good pruning. They did a spectacular job. Leaves were raked, sticks cleaned up, plants trimmed back, and the fairy tree cleared of all the skirting bottom branches.
Little Miss Seven did not find the work to be impressive. In fact, the morning she walked outside and saw the newly naked trunk where her home had once been, she let out a wail that was inconsolable for several minutes. Oh, she wanted that spot back. But the branches were gone for good.
When the tears dried, I knew there wasn’t much I could say to make it better. She had to mourn the loss of her little space and all the tree symbolized to her. What was best for the tree really was in conflict with her idea for the way the tree was meant to be used.
And so it is with us.
Our lives are like the trees; we have our branches that form our imaginary worlds. Prideful ones that make us think we’re better than we are. Guilty ones that hold us back from living the way we’re meant to live. Alcohol ones. Shame ones. Ones that cluster together to keep the light out and the darkness in.
And we are also like the little girl who has an idea for the tree, our life. We really love our ideas for the tree, and cutting away the branches would make us wail, too. But in the apparent destruction of our branches is life.
Jesus promised in John 15 that he would cut off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and prune the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
He cares more about the tree overall than the individual branches; he cares more about our lives as a whole and will gently cut out the things in our lives that aren’t fruitful, despite our own intentions and ideals.
We can’t always understand at the time of the cutting and pruning the why. Why is God doing this to me?
I’m sure my daughter, if she would have witnessed the actual pruning of her fairy tree, would have run over and made quite a scene, because all she would have seen is what she was losing. She did not have the long-term vision that the church volunteers did. And we don’t have the eternal perspective for our lives the Master Gardener has.
It’s painful to see our vision for our lives cut, pruned, and changed. Sometimes it’s not until years later that we can see. Our trunks are getting wider, stronger, bearing the rings of a tree that’s weathered multiple cutting sessions.
And sometimes we’re resilient, like my daughter, who has returned to the tree, with an altered fairy story.
Your tree, your life is one for great beauty. You are emblematic of your Creator. He is the one that can see how to redeem your story. He will cut you and prune you. It may hurt, but you will grow. You will maturate into something that he will use over and over to bring glory to himself.
You will be a mighty oak. Or a towering evergreen. And the seeds of his life in you will spread as you grow more into his vision for you.
In the death of our branches, life carries on.