Living the Questions is monthly feature where I focus on one question that has arisen for me recently during times of contemplation or study. This month’s question was inspired by the May 2, 2018 meditation podcast hosted by Pray-As-You-Go.
Almost a decade ago, I planted three Knock Out® rose bushes in my front flower bed. These roses are marketed as low maintenance, and because of this they became very popular in my area. When I heard low maintenance, I interpreted it to mean virtually no maintenance and it took just a season to realize my error.
Without proper pruning, branches quickly get leggy and lose that lush look I envy when better maintained bushes burst forth all over town in May. Over the years mine have steadily declined as I always seem to forget to prune and feed them at the appropriate time.
But this year, the prolonged winter gave me a little more time to remember to cut them back and they are looking some better. It may be too late, but these roses are forgiving. Maybe with a little extra TLC they could recover in a season or two.
Pruning is a necessary, but sometimes painful gardening task. I don’t have the greenest of thumbs, so when I manage to nurture a plant to the fullness of it’s beauty it seems especially egregious to cut it back.
As I wrote in last week's reflection, I’ve just come off a season where many projects were coming to bloom at a time when nature was calling me to lie dormant for a little while. Like the lanky branches on an unpruned rose bush, I was beginning to feel a bit haggard and spread thin. This is what happens when I branch out too far in too many directions, and I admit that this is an all too common state of affairs for me.
So, I knew I needed to cut back, but was having trouble discerning what I needed to let go of. Most of what was on my calendar and to-do list were activities that felt important and desirable. It wasn’t that I was saying yes to things when I really wanted to say no. I truly wanted to say yes to everything and more.
As an INFP on the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, I have endless curiosity and desire to explore every idea that comes around, which can lead me further down the path of doing as I simultaneously long for space to just be. My psychological tendency, as Emily Dickinson put it, to “dwell in possibility” is often in tension with my spiritual call as a contemplative striving to stay present to what is in the moment. I’ve come to believe that learning to abide peacefully where those two aspects of myself intersect is a major part of my personal growth curriculum.
"As the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, so should you stop off your miscellaneous activity and concentrate your force on one or a few points." Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve been giving this question prayerful consideration over the past few months. Proper pruning is all about energy (which, by the way, is true for most things). And I had to get very honest with myself about where I was spending my time and whether or not those activities were in service to what I perceive to be my purpose.
What I found is that it is easy for me to get hooked into using my creative energies and talents in service to someone else’s purpose or agenda. To be fair, I would not get involved if there wasn’t synergy there. But, when my involvement means that there is no time for me to devote to my own projects, or I'm having to steal time from other important areas such as good self care practices (sleep, exercise, etc...) I know I cannot afford to say yes no matter how worthy or interesting the cause may be. I feel fairly assured of my calling at this point in my life, which has taken me fifty plus years to discern. Now I must make a conscious effort to live in alignment with that knowledge instead of trying to make space for that which is not mine to do.
The shift I’m making is simple, but not necessarily easy. It basically boils down to committing time on my calendar to the projects I’ve felt a distinct call towards, (this blog, for example) which helps me to say no to other shiny or interesting opportunities that come along. Keeping my eyes on my unique soul’s purpose helps me channel my energy those branches that have the best opportunity to bear the type of fruit that God designed me to produce. .
But, it is not just about projects and producing fruit. Space for contemplation, stillness and solitude is all too often shuffled to the bottom of my to-do list. If I am indeed called to a contemplative life, then my time alone with God informs what I do with the rest of the day I've been given - not the other way around. Ultimately, time spent in contemplation is generative, giving me energy and focus for what action God wants to manifest through me. Understanding this truth does make it easier to surrender to the stillness God is calling me to, but I often forget.
Does any of what I wrote here resonate with you? What needs pruning in your life? Feel free to leave a comment below. For those who prefer a less public forum, I’ve started a closed Facebook group where we can continue the conversation on a deeper, more intimate level. If you are interested, please request to join the group here.
Yours in love,
Did you know?
In poetry there is a rhyming style known as "pruning" where the final word of each successive line in a stanza is the same word with the first letter "pruned" off. Sometimes this requires a little creative spelling to pull off. Here's an example.
I Blesse thee, Lord, because I GROW
Among thy trees, which in a ROW
To thee both fruit and order OW.
What open force, or hidden CHARM
Can blast my fruit, or bring me HARM,
While the inclosure is thine ARM?
Inclose me still for fear I START.
Be to me rather sharp and TART,
Then let me want thy hand & ART.
When thou dost greater judgments SPARE,
And with thy knife but prune and PARE,
Ev’n fruitfull trees more fruitfull ARE.
Such sharpnes shows the sweetest FREND:
Such cuttings rather heal then REND:
And such beginnings touch their END
The garden has much to teach us about life, creativity, and spirituality. Albert Einstein said, "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." You may want to check out what these writers have to say about the insights they've harvested from their time in the garden.
The Power of Pruning for A Fruitful Life by Jennifer Hoffman