We’ve lived in our house for seventeen years, and every year the azaleas in the front yard put on the most glorious show.
They were planted over 30 years ago and we take great care to keep them healthy and thriving. Part of that care includes regular pruning, which I know might sound counterintuitive. Like why would you intentionally cut back a healthy-looking shrub and make it look worse for a while?
As is turns out, pruning has many benefits. It removes old or dead branches that could make it vulnerable to disease, and by thinning the top layer of leaves, it allows more light to get into the heart of the bush so that it will grow from the inside out.
I’ve also experienced how pruning has many benefits in my spiritual life as well, which is the theme of this post that wrote back in October of 2014, just a few short years after my epic empty-nest-induced, mid-life-crisis. Learning to see those challenging years differently made all the difference moving forward, and it is a lesson I have carried with me since then.
My garden has been one of my greatest teachers and I hope its lessons bless you like they have me.
Please take good care of the azaleas.
Those were Mr. Johnson’s parting words to us as we shook hands. Tripp and I had finally finished signing the mountain of paperwork, and we were officially closed on the purchase of our new house. We were now the proud owners of an almost 100-year old fixer upper.
During the course of the closing process, Mr. Johnson explained that he had planted the azaleas in the front flowerbed thirty-some years ago. And every spring since then, they have put on a gorgeous display of trumpet-shaped, exquisitely-ruffled white flowers.
Before we bought it though, our house had been occupied by a string of renters who didn’t put much effort (if any) into the flowerbeds, and as a result, the azaleas had become overgrown and leggy. And so like we have done with the rest of the house, for the past nine years we have been rehabilitating the azaleas. Every year we trim them back a little more, pruning out the dead branches, and every April we have been rewarded with more and more blooms.
This past year though…well we cut them back hard. And when I say “we,” I mean Tripp because I was worried that it was too much. All our research had assured us that this was OK, but it seemed so severe….there was hardly any green left on top. The azaleas were basically taken down to just the main, bare branches.
You cannot even imagine how thrilled I was when, a few weeks later, I saw all these tiny baby green shoots sprouting from the interior branches. As it turned out, by cutting back all the over-grown parts and the dead branches, the light was able to penetrate deep into the heart of the azaleas.
They started growing from the inside out.
I’ve seen the evidence of how pruning in the garden has restored many a struggling shrub. I’ve also experienced how pruning has many benefits in my spiritual life as well. Over the past few few years, I can see where God has been at work in my life, carefully trimming back those parts of my life that were overgrown and unproductive. With skilled and loving hands, he has been removing all those old, dead beliefs about who I am and my purpose in life.
I will tell you though…pruning royally sucks. It is uncomfortable and scary. In my case, my life felt bare and exposed. Existentially speaking, all I was left with was my faith in God and the belief that God loved me.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~Jeremiah 29:11
But the light found its way into my heart. And in the expert hands of the Master Gardener, my spirit is stronger and my life is so much healthier…fuller and more gratifying than it has ever been.
I guess you could say that I am growing from the inside out.