Ever since my wife and I moved into our current home I have had an ongoing battle with the shrubbery. There are times when honestly I don’t know who’s winning the battle — the vegetation or me. But it’s all part of having a nice home, and I try to take pride in the way our yard looks to the outside world.
At the very beginning, tackling the arduous task of keeping up with the gardening became a living parable of the character of sin my life. I must confess that there was a time when I was more satisfied with the condition of my yard than the condition of my soul. I have been grateful to the Lord for teaching me an important lesson along the way.
Pruning Away a False Front
On one section of our property, there was a collection of wild grape vines that had choked out just about everything that was growing there. From a distance, things looked lush and green, but up close it was plain to see that the vines had all but destroyed the bushes underneath. I ended up having to use a chain saw to remove many of the bushes in order to get rid of the thick vines that had taken over.
One of the most tedious parts of the gardening was removing the vines from around the branches of a young mulberry tree. Pulling them off the tree was no use. I had to go to the roots and cut them with a pruning saw and then clip the different sections around each branch and carefully remove them one by one.
I found that in order to save the tree, I had to cut off several of its branches where the vines had become too entangled and had coiled themselves around the wood, leaving a lasting impression. The more of the vines I removed, the more I realized just how far gone the tree really was. At the end of the whole endeavor, I found that there was very little foliage remaining and I was left doubting whether the tree would even recover from its ordeal.
Through this experience, I was reminded how the sin in my life was like those vines. It started off quietly attaching itself to my life. At first, I didn’t notice what had happened; and when finally I did, I wanted to ignore the problem. “I’ll get rid of it later; it’s nothing to worry about right now!” I told myself. But slowly, like the vines around the bushes and trees, the sin began to wrap itself around my soul, intertwining with my daily actions and becoming a part of who I was. Like the tree, it was difficult to tell the difference between the sin and the green full life God had given me. They looked almost the same — at least from my disinterested distance.
The Divine Gardener
But eventually, I began to see that the sin was taking over, choking out the light and drying me up inside. Things looked healthy on the surface, but I knew I was in need of a good pruning. I remembered one day reading the words of Jesus:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)
Though it was painful, I knew I needed to let the Divine Vinedresser cut away all that was in me that was dead. My sin had become a thin veneer over a parched soul that was starved for the nourishment of new life from the True Vine. I didn’t want the garden of my soul to be taken over by the choking, twisted growth of sin until the shell of my life was toppled to the ground, used up and worthless.
I trusted the Lord to be as gentle as possible in the process. I knew there would be pain and even some loss, but I was prepared to accept what was needed to make me into a fruitful believer once more. And so I called out to the heavenly Gardener, trusting that it wasn’t too late to save me and opening my heart to His healing.
I discovered that my roots in Christ were strong, and the life surging through me came from the One who was my sure foundation. The Gardener knew what to do. Through the pruning power of Confession and the nourishment of the Word and the Eucharist, I began to heal. At first, I didn’t like what I saw. I had let my spiritual life go and become like an emaciated plant, barely alive. But now I was painfully aware of just how deep the sin in my life had gone. I was ready to begin again.
A Question of Discipline
In the story The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, there was a young prince who was a faithful gardener on a tiny planet where seeds would blow in with the wind. Some were innocent and became beautiful roses, but others were dangerous and grew into giant baobabs. The prince knew that when a baobab first appeared, it would look as harmless as a rose. But if neglected for too long, it could grow so large that it would engulf and tear apart his tiny planet with its huge roots.
“A baobab,” he said, “is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces.” In the words of the Little Prince, it was all a “question of discipline.” And so it was with my sin. Like the roots of the vines trying to reestablish themselves in my garden, I needed to remember to dig out those roots of sin as soon as they could be distinguishable from the fruit of the Spirit in my soul.
New Life, Lessons Learned
My yard has been looking better and better with each passing year. That young tree is flourishing and our bushes have come back to life. As each new spring arrives, I see more and more growth and new beauty where there once was only the appearance of healthy greenery.
There has been a similar kind of growth in the garden of my soul as well. I have learned the sobering lesson of the baobabs and the meticulous methods of the Gardener. And I have come to see that it is our connection to the True Vine that helps us to find an abundant life and a fruitful harvest. It remains there for me as I remain in Him and tend to my soul-garden with disciplined hands. But I must be willing to pay the price for cutting sin out of my life and stand ready to cultivate the seeds of new growth that the Gardener will plant within me through each and every new season of change.
I hope that sharing my story will encourage you to take a good look at the garden of your own soul, that you will be quick to cut out the sin that so easily entangles, and that you let the Divine Gardener work His will and His Word into the fertile soil of your soul. God bless and happy spring!