Laying in my hospital room on Friday night, I was reminded of the imagery of pruning. Wikipedia describes pruning, as “targeted removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound, or otherwise unwanted tissue from crop and landscape plants.” A person prunes for various reasons including “deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or directing growth), improving or maintaining health, reducing risk from falling branches, preparing nursery specimens for transplanting, and increasing the yield or quality of flowers and fruits.”
I wrestle with whether the pruning metaphor is something of a promise from God or whether it’s something that I tell myself to calm my anxiety about the future. Maybe it could be legitimately both. In pruning, the purpose isn’t to injure the plant, but to cause it to thrive and function the way that it ought. The problem comes as I try to figure out what this image means to me; what is it that God might be saying? And how do I not impose my wants and dreams over what God might actually be saying?
There’s a certain sense where I feel like I’m letting God off the hook easy this time. Partly, I’ve done the bitter and angry route with God in the past, and, for me, it feels more like Anne Lamott’s rat poison analogy of hate (hating something is sort of like taking rat poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die). I’m not ready to abandon hope for the future yet, and I’m not ready to sit on the sidelines of life feeling bitter and like I’m watching my life as a spectator instead of an active participant. Though I am also a realist and recognize that anger is part of the grief cycle, so I’ll probably hit that point at some time anyway.
Partly I feel like God is up to something that I’m not sure I quite understand, and I’m sort of curious where this is going to go. And maybe I need to have that curiosity and belief in order to have hope. Hope that I can find something of meaning in all this. It’s funny to me that I can tell myself that God has a plan in all this, but I’m not super receptive when others want to tell me how good God is or that he’s up to something in this crappy situation. These are words that I reserve for myself right now; I don’t exactly welcome them from others.
I still can’t shake the notion that God did promise me something last fall, and is continuing to make some kind of promise as he continues to develop relationships with certain people in my life. I feel like a chess piece being carefully orchestrated on a board. Maybe that’s crazy, but it’s still the way I feel. And I don’t necessarily feel that that is a bad thing; it makes me feel like there is a plan for my future even if I don’t understand it or can’t fully see it yet.
And I can’t shake the notion that my God is a God who loves to make promises to undeserving people; and God keeps his promises whether or not I’m faithful because God’s promises are about who God is rather than who I am. I keep being reminded of Abraham’s story in Genesis particularly an old post that I wrote on Genesis 22 at A Thirst for More.
I want to be a person of faith. I also want to be firmly grounded in reality not with my head up in dreamland or crazy town. I want these things to overlap. This is where I struggle. What is the promise? What is reality? How do I hold to faith when reality seems to be at odds? Which is more important to me when they can’t overlap- the faith or the reality?
And I think God welcomes our questions; Abraham questioned God about the fulfillment of the promise, and faith was credited to him as righteousness. But, these days I feel like I’m asking questions that go unanswered. What happens to faith in the midst of unanswered questions? Abraham had the luxury of a concrete reply from God; I don’t quite yet. My answers are swirls of mists; hints but nothing concrete. But this current pruning seems to be part of what is needed to fulfill the promise. It doesn’t excuse it or justify it, but it means that the loss is not merely the end of the story. It is also part of a bigger story — one where the loss is not the end.