Last year, I planted roses. I planted two varieties, six bushes in all. Three of the bushes were white roses called John Paul II. The other three were Our Lady of Guadalupe roses — beautiful pink roses that bloomed abundantly until the first week in December.
I had been warned by experienced gardeners that growing roses was tricky business. But I found otherwise. Michael dug some holes, we stuck the bushes in, filled them up and watered occasionally. We were rewarded by bouquet after bouquet of fresh-cut, sweet smelling roses for over six months. I admit that I thought I’d stumbled upon the perfect rose bushes.
I wasn’t sure what to do with them last winter, so I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t sure what to do with them in the spring and I was so sick with all-day-long morning sickness I didn’t care. The roses came back and all through May, they bloomed generously. Yep. I had this rose thing all figured out.
And then June came. The leaves started to turn yellow with black spots. Holes appeared in the leaves. Blooms yellowed on the vine before they fully opened. The bushes looked like they were dying very, very quickly. I asked for rose advice and it came back to me with authority — prune them way back, remove every trace of the diseased leaves and branches, clear the debris from the ground, treat the remaining plant and then wait for it to come back, healthier than ever. I was heartsick at the thought.
I set out with Mary Beth early one morning to do the deed. We donned gardening gloves and wielded pruning shears. She began to cut one leaf at a time. I told her to cut the whole branch. She cut off the tip. I told her to go lower and cut the whole branch. She winced. So did I. She questioned the wisdom of removing so much of the plant. I told her that the experts claimed that it was necessary to save the plant. And so, together, almost silently, we cut all six bushes back to nearly bare branches.
When were almost finished, I commented to her, “You know, God does this. He is the master gardener and He most certainly does prune. There are times in our lives we will feel stripped as bare as these bushes. Remember this morning. Remember how hard it was to cut it all away. Remember how much we want to save these flowers.” She nodded solemnly. She thought I was nuts. One day, she will remember.
We set about in life with such good intentions. We fill our lives with relationships and our calendars with events. We get involved and seek friendships. Most of us seek also to give and to serve. We look for opportunities for our children to learn and to grow. We think we’ve found the perfect plan. For a while, it all blooms so beautifully. Our happy combination of activities bears abundant, sweet-smelling blossoms. We are quite sure it’s all God’s will for us.
And then the black spots start to creep up. Sometimes, it’s a slow process. Sometimes, we wake up one morning and find the whole bush covered with blackened, holey leaves. If we allow it, God begins to prune. Often, the pruning is painful, very painful. The only way to bear the pain of the pruning is to keep our eyes on the face of the Gardener. He has a plan. It’s a plan to save us, a plan to allow us to bloom abundantly. But first, He must strip us bare.
And there we stand in the summer sun, naked in our seemingly barren state. Very little green remains, no blooms can be seen. We need to begin again, confident that the Gardener will provide all we need to grow and flourish. We trust in the One who said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:1-5).