A couple weeks after moving in we had a neighborhood open house to meet the people who live in this community. Our wonderful friends and landlords set the whole thing up, so instead of taking months or years to meet the people living on the block, we had many of them in our house less than two weeks after moving. To prepare for this we decide to do some yard work. The front of the house has a large porch and a cute little yard, but many of the bushes had become overgrown and you couldn't even see the street when you were sitting on the porch. Because Shawn is the expert gardener in our family, I listened to him when he said we needed to hack it all back and cut away any extra growth and unhealthy parts. I knew this instinctively, but when we actually started doing it I continually questioned him because it was so bare and ugly! Instead of being green and lush it suddenly looked a bit sickly and barren. This would be the first impression of people walking up to the house.
I'm sure you can see where I am going with this. The Bible is not lacking in gardening analogies. But even though it seems obvious, I have been surprised at how much pruning and hacking I needed coming back to the States.
We landed on a Tuesday and drove to DC on a Thursday to start the interview that happened for a full weekend. I was jet lagged but excited about the possibility of this church, so the adrenaline kept us going. We left feeling like the weekend was a sure sign that this was going to be our place, and were happy to hear 10 days later that the church felt the same way.
But suddenly all the newness, the grief of what we had left, and the anxiety of starting over again started to overwhelm. Even as we settle in, my eyes are open to overgrowth and places of rot that need to be cut off so healing and new life can come. The problem is that since we are new, I prefer people see lots of the overgrowth because at least it's green, looks healthy, and hides the rot for the most part. It comes across as life, even though it is actually sucking life out of me. I don't want to be seen as unhealthy or with baggage, I want to be seen as capable and full of ideas and life.
But right now God is being very clear that he is pruning me. And he's not being frugal in that pruning - all the excess is being stripped off down to the place where it can start fresh. Though a gentle gardener, he's very thorough. He leave nothing that is not his plan in place.
"My child, your identity needs to be in me alone."
All those places in life where I have been finding my identity apart from simply being His are being stripped away and I feel raw and exposed. He is cutting and snipping and sometimes ripping away not only the unhealthy growth of lies about my identity that I cling to and let grow among the leaves, but also the good things that I think define who I am. Being a loyal friend, being known and authentic, speaking, writing, discipling, teaching - everything has been cut off down to the stubby knot on the branch that is the only visible sign of the promise of new growth.
But when he points to that little green knot, kisses me on the forehead, and starts singing his love song for me over me, I start to believe that this really is for my good and his glory.
The bushes outside of our house are already growing new leaves and the gaps and barrenness are being filled in with light green growth that looks different than before, but are obviously healthier and will be beautiful and mature in time. Shawn was right in the ruthless pruning, and God is (of course) right in his pruning of my heart. While I can't see the vision of the gardens Shawn plans here, I always end up soaking in the beauty of the results. In the same way I trust God's plan to make me more like him to bring peace and beauty and life to those around me.