The storm started as rain.
Cold and pelting. Then sluicing. Then softer.
The quality of the sound changed, the texture of the rain changed, and I knew it was time for action. By the time I bundled into winter gear and opened the door, giant white flakes were soaking into the wetness. Slush coated every surface in heavy crystals. I put the blade of my shovel to the pavement and shoved a path forward. The sound was a satisfying slop.
Anyone who has ever chipped ice from a driveway knows that those gentle drops can be deceiving. They are soft only until frozen.
As the white swirl intensified, I scraped as much wetness as I could. Beside me there was a loud crack, and a tree branch crashed to the ground. I felt the thud through the soles of my boots. I jumped; my dog barked. The snow was heavy and wet and covering the shimmer of rain-turned-ice. It was not the first, nor the last branch to fall.
I am grateful we had the trees around the house capped a few weeks ago in anticipation of storms like this. “See that tree,” our tree crew leader said, pointing. “The lower branches are dying but the tree is still healthy. All the growth is up top to get the sunlight. That’s nature’s way of pruning. ”
Pruning. I mull this over as I scrape slush amidst the sound of falling branches.
There’s the arborist who trims limbs and sculpts tree crowns so they don’t get too heavy and pull the whole tree over in a storm. There’s also the trimming of dead branches to devote more nutrients to the living, growing ends. Like the vinedresser coaxing more fruit from the vine.
At its simplest, pruning is the process of cutting back in one area to allow for more growth in another. And it happens one way or another. Either by the caretaker. Or by the storm.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not always good at the cutting back part. I take on more, and more, and even more, but I don’t like the pruning part. I spend much more time thinking about what I will do rather than what I will not do. But like the rain turning to ice or the tree cracking beneath its burden, the pruning needs to happen. And it might be better to take care of it early.
As Christians, we can invite Jesus to show us what needs to be scraped away. He is our caretaker, and His Spirit within us will prompt what needs to be pruned. Sometimes it’s an attitude not reflective of the fruits of the spirit. Sometimes it’s a relationship or an activity or a ready-or-not life transition. Sometimes it’s a message to simply wait on Him.
Our caretaker will prune excesses and scrape lifelessness so that our living end can grow toward the Son.
Our job is to follow His lead. Attend to His promptings early, while it is still slush. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s far better to shovel rain.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her dog, Marly, who recently passed away but is not forgotten. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org