Pruning

Sometimes, right in the middle of an ordinarily sweet life- not perfect, but good- unexpected trials come crashing onto the scene with such force that you wonder if you will ever know normal again.  As far as you could tell, you were bouncing along, living a good life- one that would please God, or so you thought- serving Him and seeking Him, bearing fruit, and mostly experiencing only minor trials of which to grumble about.  And then without warning, the blows come with a 1, 2, 3 punch.  Life as you have known it- safe, comfortable, blessed- has unraveled.  How can this unseen God, that you have trusted and grown to love, be good?  How could He be all powerful and worthy of worship if He could allow such pain, confusion, and loss to crash into your life like a wrecking ball?

These were some of the questions I had to wrestle through during a particularly hard season of life.  Looking back, Bart and I refer to this season as the trifecta of trials.  I have no doubt that Satan’s goal was to flatten us, to turn the lights out on our faith.  I still get stinging tears and a lump in my throat when I look back to those years.  I can see the dark days, the rubble that lay all around us- too quiet, but raging with emotion and emptiness; the paralyzing mess of relationships, brokenness, and dreams that had been all but completely obliterated in nearly every category of our lives.  Then as if to kick us while we were down, the difficult loss of a baby that we had prayed for.  If I reflect back on it for too long, I can feel the hollow places in my soul of not knowing quite how to move forward.  Life as we knew it was no longer recognizable.  I spent so many hours of so many days just pouring out my confused and bleeding heart on pages- journals overflowing with wounded words, questions that had no earthly answers, and stained with tears that only God saw falling.

I had read Jesus’ warnings to me, recorded in Holy Writ:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

– John 16:33 –

But somehow amid the fruitful life of loving and serving God and placing each new puzzle piece of life in its proper place, we naively assumed we were positioned to escape these kinds of troubles.  Had we unknowingly disappointed God or brought this unraveling upon ourselves?  How could a life of following Jesus lead us into such painful seasons of deep heartache?  And where was the overcoming part?  It sure didn’t appear that anything good could come out of this season of despair for us and for the numerous bleeding hearts all around us.  How could this be the Kingdom of God?

Each day I can remember wrestling through these questions with God.  Bringing my raw heart before Him was so hard- my flesh wanted to numb the pain with new tasks or worldly pleasure or maybe to just run away from this God who I was questioning…. but I was desperate for a hint of light in this dungeon of darkness.  I would sit in the living room of our house in Mt. Carmel and pour over Scripture searching for answers and for drops of hope to cling to, or go for a long walk/run and pound out the overwhelming emotions.  Bart would get up early in the morning and wrestle it out with God- running into the arms of Jesus in the high school hallways.  There was nothing glamorous about these days.  Our house was not full of laughter and the same bubbly joy that was our old normal.  We continued to wonder how any good could come out of these ashes, but God was faithful to grant us the dose of strength needed to get us through one day at a time.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
 As they pass through the Valley of Baka {the Valley of Tears},
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.”

~ Psalm 84:5-7 ~

We were so weak in this season.  We did not know where all of this would lead.  We didn’t know where life was headed.  We struggled through all the whys and hows and the continual swirl of unanswered questions.  But one thing we were learning was to set our hearts on pilgrimage.  This valley of tears, called life, was not our home.  This truth became our lifeline.  Whereas pre-wreckage, we trusted that we were ultimately heaven bound, we didn’t necessarily live our earthly days and decisions out of that place.  The shambles we were surrounded by required us to set our eyes more deeply and constantly on the hope of redemption- we began to long for the day when all the brokenness and pain of this world would be swallowed up forever.  There was no quick and easy fix.  There was no way we could continue to live out of a false sense of hope that life would move along smoothly if we just followed Jesus.

Little by little, He began to show us His pathway through this valley.  This world is not our home.  We are just passing through this earthly life: foreigners and strangers in this broken world, looking for a country all our own, in heaven (Hebrews 11:13-14).  And we began to look more intently at Jesus as our model for walking through our trials:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”  ~ Isaiah 53:3 ~

 For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  ~ Hebrews 12:2-3 ~

:::

As we looked to the cross, we found a path to hope and healing.  There was no going back to how things had been before, but could there be another hidden pathway through this valley of tears?  Could these scars have purpose that I couldn’t yet see?  Would I be able live forward without a cloud of fear of when the next blow would hit? I felt so vulnerable.  Did I have even a mustard seed of faith to believe that He could still yet bring any beauty out of these ashes?  If God’s good plan of redemption for mankind included the suffering, pain, and earthly scorn of His One and Only Son, could I believe that he could still be good in the midst of my own suffering?

Every day I felt tested, a new opportunity to wake up and decide where and in whom I was going to cling to for the strength to keep fighting for hope.  God’s Word was like my manna, my Bread of Life, my healing balm for the wounds still very open.  Verses that I used to read through and apply to everyday inconveniences or annoying mishaps suddenly had new life- giving me strength, footing, and some sense of direction:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  ~ James 1:2-4 ~

 “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. ”  ~ 1 Peter 1:6 ~

We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.”           ~ Acts 14:22  ~

So this messy trifecta of trials and the waves of aftershocks were meant to test me, to refine me, and to be a hallway to walk through on my journey to my final destination.  As painful as the days continued to be, they were not without purpose.  They were meant to reveal the size of my faith- as small as it was- and to grow it, mature it, deepen it, and to make me more like my Savior.  The Refiner’s Fire was burning away what remained of my selfishness, pride, lust for worldly accomplishment, and desire to store up treasures on earth.

It was with those truths tucked deep inside of my heart, I took the tiniest steps of radical faith to consider these trials to be joy- believing that my Loving Father must see what is hidden from my sight.  And with my sights set squarely upon the unseen, upside down Kingdom of God- I began to find freedom from the anxiety and fear of the trials that might still lay ahead.  This earth is not my home.  I am a stranger here.  In Him, I can walk through whatever valleys lay ahead of me and know that His grace will be sufficient for me there too.  His Presence can turn any valley of tears into a place where I can find pools of refreshing water simply because He is there with me.

All over our house (above my kitchen sink, my bathroom mirror, my nightstand) and in the dashboard of my car, you would’ve found the evidence of holy soul medication:

” Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ~

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”  ~ Job 13:15 ~

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  ~Psalm 34:18 ~

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  ~ Romans 8:18 ~

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  ~Romans 8:28 ~

And I would gulp down these truths, deep into my heart, mind, and soul.  I began to see that my eyes had been so previously fixed on seizing what is seen- here and now on this earth- that I was missing out on the eternal weight of glory that is unseen and eternal.  Somehow these trials were given the “yes” from God to enter my life, not as a punishment, but for some sort of eternal good- lasting forever, and creating more value than if life had continued on the path I thought was best.  I may not see all the glory revealed on this earth, but I can yet hope in Him to see it when I arrive at Home.  I learned that He was my ever present comforter when I was crushed in spirit- this unseen God drew near to me.  I began to put more and more stock of my heart, time, and treasures in heaven, where the eternal glory lies- where thieves cannot steal from me and moths cannot destroy (Luke 12:33).

He changed me, us, in a multitude of ways.  Carrying brokenness and so many shreds of an unraveled life will do that to a person.  And after many days of plodding through that valley, you look back and see that He has actually carried you.  Your heart feels bigger, more tender, more aware of the needs of this broken world.  Your eyes seem to have changed too- you see how fleeting this life really is and how we only get this one chance to spend it on the things that will truly count in eternity.  You look down at your scars and realize that those are just the beauty marks to remind you of the ways you’ve been able to fellowship with Jesus in your own suffering.

The teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount become truths that actually make sense to you now:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

~ Matthew 5:3-5 ~

Somehow, in His upside down Kingdom, it is not those who always have a smooth ride through life that are considered the most blessed.  Those are the ones who have already received their treasure in this life.  But for those who have suffered, mourned, and been broken down by this life- God has hidden treasures for these…hidden revelation of glory yet to be seen.  And in this way, our good, good Father gets the final victory over the sin, brokenness, and death of this world.  It is not a fairy tale- One Great Day, even the ashes that remain will be turned into beauty.  This is our great hope that we cling to as we journey through this Valley of Baka.

:::

It wasn’t until much time had passed that He began to show me that sometimes, right in the middle of an ordinarily sweet life of fruitfulness, the Gardener comes and cuts away even perfectly good branches.  And for a season, the once blooming tree shows no signs of beauty or life.  And maybe the tree even wonders what just happened to it.  The tree was doing what it was created and planted to do- grow fruit.  What the tree doesn’t know is that the Gardener has a plan for the tree to bear even more fruit in another season.  And so, because the tree has a wise, good, and sovereign Gardener, the time of pruning must come.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 

~ John 15:1-2 ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Megan

Loved by Jesus • Wife • Mom to 4 • Daughter • Sister • Friend • Teacher • Lover of God’s Word

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