By Kathryn Graves, Crosswalk.com
Years ago, we moved from Wyoming to south Texas. In front of our new house stood a beautiful row of rose bushes. I’ve loved the flowers since childhood because of the rose gardens my grandmother kept.
The only problem with my Texas blossoms was that I had no idea how to care for them. Grandma taught me the proper way to cut a single bud for a vase, but not the finer points of growing the bushes.
A friend, who was a native Texan, offered to help. “You need to prune them twice a year in this climate,” Ramiro advised. He shielded his face from the blistering sun with one hand and waved a set of clippers in his other. “See how they’re tall and spindly-looking? We’ll cut them back and before you know it, they’ll be lovely round mounds full of gorgeous flowers.”
I watched as Ramiro leaned in to make the first cut. “Stop!” I yelled.
He jerked upright. “What? You almost gave me a heart attack!”
“You’ll kill it if you cut it that short... won’t you?” My voice trailed off as I realized Ramiro was the expert and I could trust him.
Ramiro laughed and assured me this was the proper way to do it. And he was right. As long as we lived in that house, the roses thrived.
Now I live in the Central Plains and a Crape Myrtle in my back yard needs pruning. I’ll use what I learned from Ramiro to turn this bush into a shapely, flower-filled treat for the eye, because the principles are the same for any bush.
While I was thinking about my gardening efforts, I had a conversation with a friend. She mentioned a book she’d recently read, Necessary Endings, by Dr. Henry Cloud. She said he talked about pruning our lives the way one prunes a rose bush. I thought back over my life and how as the seasons progressed, my focus and priorities changed.
Women can feel like we’re supposed to be some kind of super-hero because of all the demands on our time. But honestly, we just can’t do it all. How did I know what to focus on and what to let go? Sometimes I just muddled through. Other times God used Scripture and/or a sermon or Bible study lesson to speak to me.
With all this in mind, I considered the four questions I ask myself when I’m cutting any bush—and how they apply to setting priorities in our lives.
1. Is It Dead Wood?
Dead branches are not just unsightly, they are detrimental to the health of a bush. Is there an activity or responsibility you take care of on a regular basis that you no longer enjoy, or that has ceased to seem as important as it once did? Is it like a dead branch, taking up space in your life? Does it keep you from moving forward—do you feel stuck in a rut? Perhaps my story can illustrate this concept.
When my children were small, I stayed at home to care for them. By the time they were both in school, I loved helping their teachers in their classrooms—and it led to the role of head class parent. After a couple of years, I was elected vice-president of the Parent Teacher Association for our elementary school.
Then I began to substitute teach. I had never envisioned a career in education, but my degree in Psychology gave me a soft heart for the Special Ed students. The year our youngest entered Middle School, I took a full-time position as Special Education para-professional. I no longer needed to be a stay-at-home mom, and my kids’ teachers no longer needed a room mother.
My priorities and passions changed as my children grew—and changed again after they graduated from high school. By then I wanted to do something different and became a jewelry lady with Premier Designs, Inc.
Would I be happy in a classroom now—or even interested? No. That became dead wood for me.
I reached the point, during the last year I was a para, where I had to make myself go to school. My joy had dissipated. That misery bled over into my personal life until my husband—to my surprise—practically pushed me into my new business with his enthusiasm. It was time to cut away the school job and come back home to a different career.
At the prospect of an income adjustment, my husband almost yelled, “Stop!” But we were both convinced God was leading, I worked hard, and my business grew until it paid what we needed.
A branch on a bush doesn’t die suddenly one day—at least not usually. Neither do the activities in our lives. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to randomly change jobs. It was a process.
If we’re paying attention to God, and reading the Bible, praying, and attending worship regularly, we’ll recognize a dead work at the right time.
The two times each year to prune rose bushes in south Texas are Valentine’s Day and August 14th. Cutting more often, or at the wrong time would harm the bush instead of promoting growth. Our lives also flow with seasons, and God’s timing is always best—and His changes always produce growth.
2. Is It Sickly?
A bush needs unhealthy branches cut away for the overall well-being of the plant. We’re like that, too.
Is there a ministry or community project you lead, or participate in, that just limps along? You believe you must persevere because you’ve always done it, or others expect you to, but it really accomplishes less than it should? Might you be embarrassed if you quit—or feel like a failure? Are you trying to keep it going, but nothing seems to work?
If we spend a lot of energy trying to keep a dying project alive, it can ruin our physical and emotional—not to mention spiritual—health. We’re often left too exhausted to do anything else. We wonder why our efforts are failing and blame ourselves, which leads to self-deprecating thoughts and possibly even depression.
We ask where God is and why He doesn’t swoop down to rescue us. We might even wonder if we heard Him wrong in the first place.
If you find yourself in such a quandary, consider the possibility that your confusion arises from nursing a sickly branch that really just needs to be pruned away.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Nastco
3. Is It a Sucker?
Suckers are little branches growing near the base of the plant. They are weak, but also drain energy from the main branches. They ruin the shape of a bush by their scraggly appearance and location. A strong, healthy plant has fewer branches, but they thrive because they receive more nutrients. Their health is not siphoned away by suckers.
Our lives become cluttered with sucker activities because it’s so hard to say “no.” Our failure to utter this little word sends us rushing from one meeting or activity to another. We can’t put enough time into any of them to make a difference.
Instead, our efforts become scatter-shot and possibly even futile. While we don’t want to hurt or offend by refusing to engage, that’s often exactly what happens when we’re only able to offer limited help. The best course is to evaluate our labors and pinch off the suckers.
4. Does It Have Legacy Value?
After I eliminate the obvious dead, sickly, and sucker branches on a bush, I take a step back and look at the result so far. I consider how I want it to continue growing and the shape it will ultimately have. Then I carefully prune any stray branches, even if they are healthy and pretty in the moment. I sacrifice some good branches in order to encourage the best.
One day when you look back at your life, will the undertaking—or even job—in question appear as a necessary element? Will it help you leave a legacy for your family?
Does it enhance what you feel is God’s call on your life? When asking these questions, it may be helpful to look at the Apostle Paul’s life. Just because you have a career that isn’t a ministry does not mean it isn’t important or useful to God.
Paul was a tentmaker by trade. In and of itself, tent-making is not a ministry. But the Lord used it to facilitate Paul’s introduction to people and to fund his mission work. And, just because Paul’s primary focus was missions, he did not need to give up his tradecraft. They balanced each other for a fruitful life with lasting legacy value.
When considering the necessity of pruning, keep this bigger, overall picture in mind. If something does not fit, then of course, cut it away. But take time for careful examination and evaluation before grabbing the clippers.
In my current job as a writer, I prune away some attractive endeavors within my local circle. This carves out time for preserving the best legacy of reaching a larger audience. The training I received through running a home-based jewelry business comes in handy—and what I learned can help you, too.
I decide how many hours I need to spend working each week. For a part-time business, about 17 hours is quite effective.
I break the weekly schedule into daily segments, depending on how many days each week I want to work, and then consider which activities produce the desired result—and give each an allotted time. Only after my set work hours do I allow myself to plug in other pursuits. It helps a lot to be able to say I can’t (fill in the blank) because I’m working—even if what I’ve been asked to do is a good thing.
Your project or ministry involvement may not require 17 hours a week. You may only need five, or ten. Or it might even grow into a full-time enterprise. Wherever God leads, keep the over-arching view and plan in mind. Focus on the best—and say goodbye to the rest.
It can be easy to go with the flow created by family, job, and cultural forces. Then we become like a wild bush growing without restraint in random fashion.
But a disciplined, prayerful approach to setting priorities will result in a beautiful life well-spent for God.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/FamVeld
Kathryn Graves, author of Woven: Discovering Your Beautiful Tapestry of Confidence, Rest, and Focus, and Fashioned by God, holds a BA in Psychology, is a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher, and spent 15 years in the fashion industry. Kathryn is Mimi to four grandsons, and loves to play with color—including interior design, clothing, and painting with pastels. In addition to her website, find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.