“Da!” The little girl squealed in delight, eyes shining as she watched her father working. She was new, barely over a year old and still mystified by the world. Her father towered over her, back muscles straining as he lifted shovelfuls of clay from the sun-baked earth. They were making a garden. The man looked down as tiny fingers wrapped themselves around the wood of his shovel. His face crinkled into a smile—she wanted to help her dad.
Stooping down, he grabbed the base of the tool, calloused hands swallowing hers, and slowly raised it up before plunging it into the hard-packed soil. The little girl erupted with glee at this—she was working! Dad deposited the dirt to the side of the hole and raised the instrument a second time, poised to strike—but had to pull back at the last second as his little one yanked the shovel toward herself. She wanted to do it, and she didn’t realize she’d nearly lost her toes. Dad glanced up at the sun. He’d never get this garden going in time to put her down for her nap if he let her help, and when she missed a nap…well, that just couldn’t be allowed to happen.
He threw an arm around her middle and hefted her off the ground. After carrying her to a nice patch of grass, he handed her a toy trowel and went back to digging. Every now and then he’d cast a glance over his shoulder to make sure she was occupied, but just as he was beginning to trust she’d stay put, he turned again and saw a blank patch of grass with a lone sandal lying where she’d been a moment before. Casting about, Dad found her over by the rosebushes ready to grab a fistful of thorns, and he rushed to the rescue. It was time to go inside.
As he swept her into his arms and made his way to the house, he noticed that a lone bud on the last rose bush had burst into bloom overnight. He was amazed. It was only yesterday that he’d pruned that bush, cutting back probably a third of its girth, and he hadn’t been sure it would bloom at all this spring. It was a miracle how fast things could grow, sometimes, and how beautiful they could become.
My daughter and I had a day much like this during the recent weeks of COVID-19 isolation. If we were to be stuck at home, I wanted home to become a more beautiful place to be, so we did yard work every time I had a spare minute. She always wanted to help. At times I had to stop her for her safety or for the success of the project, but she was the constant priority. It was a joy to have her with me, but she wasn’t really very helpful. If anything, she made things harder, and I often needed to find alternative activities for her, but she wanted to be with me, and I wanted her there. I realized that this was a clear picture of the way God deals with every one of His children.
Each of us is precious to Him, as His word says that He has made us in His own image, that He formed us in the womb, and that He gave Himself as a ransom for us to have us in His family. He has a plan and a desire for each of us to live in peace with Him and work alongside Him. Sometimes, we are like my daughter, yearning to be with Him and unaware of how much more difficult we are making things, or we are ignoring His plans for us in order to follow our own designs—the paths we choose. Some of us don’t even acknowledge our need for Him at all and ignore Him completely, but we know deep down that He is there, we just may not be sure that we like who we think He is or how we feel that He has treated us.
For all of us, His desire is the same: He wants us close to Him and following the paths He lays out for us, because only His way is safe for the long haul. Only it leads to our genuine fulfillment. The Bible says that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12), and “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23), because He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6), and “no one comes to the Father except through Me”. He came to give abundant life.
The garden lesson was incomplete for me, however, until I saw the bush I had pruned just the day before. It was overgrown, limbs hanging low with the weight of itself, and I had cut it back to make certain it had room to grow larger and stronger to bear more fruit (flowers, in this case). By surprise, it had responded beautifully to my care and had already sprung up growth. It helped me to understand that this time of relative isolation in the world is being used by God as a time of pruning. In many cases, what we once did we are doing no longer. The weeks have changed, previously held commitments are suspended indefinitely, and many opportunities—even jobs—have been lost. Much of what occupied our time on a regular basis before is gone.
So it is that like the pruned plant, most of us had become overgrown and were being weighed down by our own “progress,” and much of what we were doing is now in flux. But perhaps much of it was not needed. Perhaps this pruning is a chance to rid ourselves of some commitments and preoccupations that were never intended for us and that did not make our own lives and the world more beautiful as they blossomed. For all of us, this is a time to take stock of where we stand with God and what we are doing with the very short lives we have been given on this side of eternity.
Now, this introspection is only of value if we come away—like the bush—growing stronger and in a healthier direction, but Jesus teaches us something beyond valuable in this regard. In John 15, He uses the same metaphor of branches on a living plant, saying “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). The branch on my bush only bore flowers because it was connected to the living source of water and nutrients through the bush and its root system. Apart from that, blooming would, of course, be impossible. Jesus says that we must be connected to Him as our source of Life and Living Water in order to grow, and we must remain connected. Without that, we are effectively dead, and nothing good will bloom from our lives and last, no matter how good our intentions may be or how hard we work. So, the question is: how close are you to your source of life? Let this season prove to provide a better answer for you by the time it ends.