On pruning and being pruned: tomatoes, John 15 and the sometimes painful truth…

It’s the middle of June, but already the grass is August-crunchy and the leaves, though green, sound dry and papery in the occasional but much welcomed breeze. I’m standing by our little garden, with fear, trepidation, and a set of clippers, wondering where to start. The puny-in-April tomato plants, the ones I feared wouldn’t live to see the month of June, experienced an astonishing recovery and growth spurt. The debates between remove the suckers or leave the suckers, raging on the internet gardening blogs and groups, continues. Something however must be done before the plants pull down the trellis and the tomatoes smother in their own foliage, and I miss all those big nasty green caterpillars that wreak havoc on tomato plants, because it’s so crowded I can’t even see them til it’s too late.

Tangle of leaves and branches…

Do I cut this branch? Am I depriving the plant of leaves needed for photosynthesis? Some branches even have blooms, and that is painful to even consider removing. I’d hate to lose even a single tomato for caprese salad made with homegrown basil as well. I approvingly watch a fat bumblebee in the act of pollinating my cantaloupe as I wrestle with the decision of which branches, if any, I remove. This pruning is hard from a gardener’s point of view.

Really, I try to convince myself, I am helping these plants by pruning them. I already water, use organic oil to remove the little red bugs on the leaves, train the vines up the trellis, have plenty of compost in the soil for nutrients, and I carefully consulted charts and blogs to choose companion plants and those that just benefit each other by close proximity as I laid out my garden plan.  Each tomato plant has its own basil, marigold or both planted at its base to help keep away bugs. Why not prune? It just seems counter-intuitive to cut off a plant to make it healthier. Then I find this:

“The main reason to prune tomato plants is that it helps your plant direct its energy toward producing fruit rather than producing more foliage. The excess foliage will eventually grow into new branches that will form fruit, but most experienced growers advise that tomatoes should be pruned to not only produce larger fruit earlier in the season, but also to protect the plants against pest and disease problems…When a tomato plant is pruned properly, all of the foliage receives adequate sunlight, and the plant is able to photosynthesize (and, as a result, grow and produce fruit) more efficiently.”

So here I am, trimming suckers and a few branches off the already tangled mass of branches. One branch, I am convinced, despite the enticing yellow blooms, must come off. Take a deep breath and snip, it’s over and joins the pile of excess branches now laying, already drying out on the grass, waiting to be thrown away. The plants already look better, healthier. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?

The bumblebees continue to buzz, the Wonderdog rests lazily in the shade of the weeping cherry, and the passage comes into my mind and spirit:

“I am the vine and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit…As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing…These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:1-2, 4-5, 11)
I’ve been feeling rather like I’m being cut back this summer. The tell-tale discarded copy-paper boxes full of pictures, books and other cubicle paraphernalia that are stacked on the living room bench tell the now repeated story. My husband’s year-long job ends August 1st. And so, since April when we found out his contract was not being extended, we’ve wondered what on earth God has in mind for us next. I do feel this is right for us, that God is in control and there is something very different He wants us to do. I feel that this past year’s employment, though odd, was His doing and provision. I’m still puzzled why it’s been the way it has over the last 12 months, and what we were supposed to learn or do or whatever, but I know that if I need to know, God will tell me.

cantaloupe vine

So, we walk by faith, not by sight. We have faith that there are new opportunities out there, that doors that seemed firmly closed last year and beginning to swing open with divine intervention. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming up. I’ll be honest, though, I’m not looking forward to the interim. I’ve lived through 14 months with an unemployed husband, and it’s hard. It’s hard on him in so many ways, hard on all of us physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s hard to know what to do and what not to do in day to day decisions. It can be paralyzing. And pruning leaves scars on the plants, and on me.  But I know there’s a purpose behind this pruning, the losing of these “branches,” even some that have borne fruit over the last year. And I know the Gardener is also the Gentle Healer and Comforter and He is with me during the pruning.
I want to want to be pruned. Of course I want to bear fruit, “much fruit” even. And of course I want to abide in Him. I see how quickly my pruning scraps are dried and shriveled up, once they are cut off from the vine. I’m the same way. He is a good vinedresser, or gardener. He knows which branches in our lives need to be pruned or even totally removed, not even because they were sickly or diseased–though sometimes they are. So I’m learning to trust His pruning, knowing that His aim is for me to “bear more fruit” and that “my joy may be made full.” 
So bring it on–bring on the full harvest, the large crop, the pruning, the fertilizing, and growth. Lord, direct my energy toward growing the fruit You want me to bear in my life. Help me be intentional in living and allow You to prune our family as You see fit, because I want Your joy in me!
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