My interactive devotion today stemmed from Jesus’ teaching in John 15. I headed out into the wilds of my yard ready to yank, cut, and destroy unwanted growth from my flower garden. This has been the summer of invasive vines. There are two main varietals, one of which is a grapevine. Highly valued in biblical writings, it has become my nemesis. Foolishly, perhaps, I planted two grapevines in my vegetable garden years ago. They have quietly gained momentum and, this summer, climbed to new heights! They are boldly climbing up my fruit trees, inhibiting their growth. They have killed a couple of pin cherry trees near the garden by choking the life out of them. (They’re a weak species and an easy target.) My vision of harvesting healthy bunches of juicy grapes has not been realized. The vines that are weighing down the fence that surrounds my vegetable garden have no grape clusters hanging from them—not one grape is within easy picking distance. When I looked skyward to see the vine that is having a party at the top of an apple tree, I see those grape clusters which are impossible to harvest! I may be imagining it, but I’m pretty sure those vines are smirking at me as I walk around my yard purveying their dominance.
But not today. I covered myself with clothing since a recent spontaneous weeding session resulted in a rash requiring a dose of prednisone. My daughter’s scrubs are my favorite outfit to wear for dirty projects. Instead of a stethoscope, the side pocket holds my phone. I wear a baseball cap that proclaims, “Half Full.” (I’m not so sure about that optimism when confronting these vines!) I have turned old, unmatched socks into arm protection by cutting out finger and thumb holes. They go under my gloves. Boots and socks complete the outfit. With clippers in hand and a tarp for hauling the verdant carnage away, I head to the side yard.
No one looks at that side of the yard. It’s easy for us to ignore it since it faces a big hill and the homes on that side of the house are in the distance. Our neglect of the yard is easy to conceal on that southern exposure. However, I am concerned about our air conditioning unit, which has been a lifesaver many times this summer. I noticed that it was nearly covered with vines, which can’t be healthy for a system whose very function is to inhale air and run it through a cooling system.
I also saw that the same vine had covered a Rose of Sharon bush that didn’t deserve to struggle to bloom in the grip of such an aggressive foe. So I started pulling on vines to find the root. As I jubilantly cut those sturdy stems, I had a pang of guilt. Didn’t Jesus say He was “the true vine”? Should I view this vine positively rather than with murderous zeal? Am I doubly guilty because I am delighting in the notion of doing a follow-up attack with a spray bottle of Round-Up? As I victoriously hauled one tarp-ful of hacked vines after another into the nearby woods, I wondered what could possibly be good about vines!
So I turned to John 15:1-2. “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
So God prunes the vine. What a concept! I planted a couple of grape root balls more than ten years ago and have never pruned them. In fact, I never really paid attention to them since my attentiveness to the things I plant is greatly curtailed by other obligations in my life (namely the fact that I drive off to work each day and tend to a household). I am certain there is great joy among the vines as I head down our driveway each day, giving them the freedom to wrap their tenacious tendrils onto the plants and trees I value! It’s a veritable reproduction rights rally taking full advantage of my absentee gardening style! God prunes the vine, which is life in Christ, so that all growth that doesn’t produce fruit is clipped off. The expectation is that we will bear fruit, not just grow without purpose.
I’ve heard so many stories this past year at the mental health hospital of how folks have latched onto some of my patients, demanding too much of them and giving nothing in return. In groups that I lead, folks confess how guilty they feel that they need to focus on themselves while hospitalized. They have nothing left to give. We explore if it is “selfish”, as they believe, to value themselves enough to say “no” to the unending requests of others. As the tendrils of others choke the life out of them, they have no energy to bear good fruit in their own lives. This lands them, in an exhausted, hopeless heap, on an in-patient psych unit. Slowly, through good medical care and compassionate conversations, life returns and their beautiful, authentic self begins to bloom.
What I can tell you about vines is that they are strong. They put down roots along their journey at ground level. They have tremendous climbing skills and stretch with amazing determination from one branch of a host tree to another. They reproduce with force, much more easily than the plants I have hoped would thrive in my garden! If ignored, they will waste their energy on overtaking whatever plants surround them rather than producing nourishing fruit. A pruned vine responds to the painful process by producing fruit that is of good use to others. Like small children who yearn for discipline, a productive vine needs intentional cultivation.
As I dumped piles of dismembered vines into the woods, I remembered another teaching of Jesus: The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. The weeds that grew among the sown wheat were allowed to grow together until the wheat was mature enough to survive the violence of weeds being plucked up around them. The instructions to the gardeners were severe: “Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.” I felt less guilty about yanking out vines and tossing them in the woods to die! If something grows, only to leach the life out of their surrounding culture, it rebels against God’s intent for good harvests. Communities rely on the mutual sharing of our gifts so that all needs are met. What I am able to provide with my gifts is different from others and all are needed. Pruning is painful but keeps us honest about how we need to use our personal resources for the common good.
So my AC unit can breathe and the flowers on the Rose of Sharon bush need no longer fear for their lives. The satisfaction I derived from my morning weeding session spared me at least a couple of therapy sessions! And I’m sure that I have undermined the arrogance of prodigal vines wasting their energy on useless climbing! Further uprooting and pruning are assured as the battle for my yard continues!