FIRST-PERSON: What happened to that lovely tree?

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- There's a lovely little tree in the front yard of my parents' house. Well, it used to be lovely.

After it had been transplanted from their backyard, all of the clusters of pink flowers were completely snipped off. It looked dead. I was curious as to why, just after this cute little tree was planted right where it was supposed to be, all its beauty was trimmed away. It didn't make any sense.

My dad explained why: Pruning back the blooms allows the roots to become established. Otherwise, the tree would have to keep its flowers and grow its roots at the same time, something it wasn't strong enough to do yet. Had the flowers not been temporarily taken away, the tree would bloom for a little while and appear healthy, but it would be too weak to weather the changing seasons because of its shallow roots. But if it could devote all its energy to growing deeper roots, then it could sustain many years of growth.

This little landscaping lesson gave new depth to what Jesus said in John 15: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2).

Just like that tree, we have to be pruned so we can sustain even more growth.

But being pruned is never really fun. Sometimes it leaves you feeling like all that was worth looking at or admiring about you was taken away. Perhaps we were transplanted to the wrong place, we might wonder. Or if I get some different soil, I'd be flourishing in no time just like I used to, we think. Why would God prune me now? What have I done to deserve feeling so useless? The leaves and flowers, the signs of life, are gone.

But that's because we can't see what's happening underneath the surface. When we feel as though God has snipped away what we thought our whole lives were about, it might be because He's cultivating a deeper, richer life that can't be seen on the outside -- deeper roots that we could never have grown without devoting all of our energy toward what will sustain us through far more difficult weather than what we've known. Not just pretty flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, but deep, abiding, enduring roots.

What blooms might God be pruning in your life? It could be anything -- an opportunity that fell through, a relationship that ended, a transition that hasn't come so easily, an unexpected tragedy that turned your world upside down, a season that was supposed to be joyful but lately has you feeling, well, a little wilted.

While we don't always see what the vinedresser is doing beneath the surface, we can rest assured that it's always for our growth. "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

That's the difficult part, isn't it? To abide. To trust that we've been planted in the right place. To align our wills with His hidden work of holiness. To endure feeling cut back.

That's when we must remember: This vine is life itself. He doesn't whither. He never wilts. And if we're truly abiding in this vine, we're not shriveling up either.

You're not being punished; you're being pruned. And it's not to leave you unfruitful and bare. It's so you can blossom and bear fruit beyond what you can imagine. "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (v.16).

We may not always understand why the Father prunes the way He does. But then, we don't have to. Our Father, the vinedresser, knows exactly what He is doing and always does what is for our good.

And so, we abide. We trust. We become rooted in the love of Christ. And we remain in the quiet confidence that our fruit will be from Him.

Katie McCoy is assistant professor of theology in women's studies at Scarborough College, the undergraduate school of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and editor of the BiblicalWoman.com website (www.biblicalwomen.com) of Southwestern's women's programs, where this column first appeared.
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