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Life and Growth

During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I had the opportunity to spend eight weeks in North Baja California tending an experimental orchard. The orchard was located on a Christian mission founded by some Evangelicals from California about twenty-five years ago. During the many hours spent quietly working in the orchard, I learned much about how my spiritual walk with God compares to a garden.

Weeding

The first task I was given was that of weeding. I would make my daily rounds through each row armed with my hoe, calmly attacking the unwanted shoots growing around the drip irrigation emitters and the roots of the fruit trees. It would take me about three days to work my way through the entire orchard, and then, I would start all over, as new weeds would show themselves. Weeds are bad because not only do they look ugly, but they compete with the fruit trees for the irrigation water and the soil nutrients. Weeds do not originate with the fruit trees; they come in from outside.

The garden of one’s soul also attracts weeds. Life on a college campus is full of temptation to live a life that is not pleasing to God. Every day, our mind is bombarded with opposing philosophies which clamor for attention—things like “tolerance” (there are no absolute rights and wrongs) and “relativism” (how can you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life?). then, there are the millions of subtle and not so subte messages that encourage one to engate in wrongdoing—the movies and TV shows that flamboyantly advertise premarital sex as a way of life. All these generate thoughts (weeds) which can be distracting and counterproductive to the work God is trying to accomplish. These weeds need to be consistently taken out, the hoe being God’s word, either as written in the Bible or what He tells us personally or through other people. God’s word has the power to separate good from evil, the weeds from the cultivated plants.

Showering

My second task was that of washing the trees. In the semi-desert environment, there is a lot of dust in the air, which collects on the leaves. The trees need to be given a shower from time to time to wash the dust off. In contrast to the sparing use of life-giving water coming through the irrigation belt lines, the trees were showered with an abundance of water. This is much like how it works in life; our God provides us with what we need (no more; no less) on a day to day basis. But there are times when He showers His blessing on us in abundance. Those times are truly refreshing from the weariness and grind of daily life, which is like the dust that settles on the trees.

An example of this in my life is that this year, I have many opportunities to get together with friends and sing songs and hymns with them, accompanying with my guitar. Singing and playing music is something I love to do. For a long time, I didn’t have the opportunity to share this talent with others; now I do, and that gives me great joy. True, this isn’t necessary for survival; I can have quite a good life without being able to share the songs. The fact that I can enhances my life and the lives of my friends.

Pruning

Back in the orchard, I found pruning to be the most interesting task of all. I was given three rows of overgrown peach trees set in split trellises. The trunks of the trees were forked near the base and grew along a set of horizontal wires spaced eighteen inches apart. The branches were trained to these wires, and they were allowed to grow outward from the wires, but were not supposed to grow any branches on the inside of the trellis. This arrangement allows for optimal fruit production. My job was to cut off all the branches growing in the middle and thin out many of the branches growing on the outside of the trellis. Pruning works somewhat like weeding, except that rather than dealing with other plants which interfere with growth, you are dealing with aspects of the desired tree which interfere with that tree’s development.

I have heard the argument that it is better to leave a tree alone, and allow it to put out branches or fruit as it pleases—that a wild tree is somehow more natural. The reality, though, is that an unpruned peach tree, whether trained to a trellis or allowed to stand on its own, is a sorry sight indeed. It is so cluttered with branches and leaves, many of which take in rather than produce energy, that it can bear little fruit. The few peaches one chances to find are small, wrinkled and rather sour.

I have also heard the argument that it would be so nice if we humans had no restrictions, could do whatever we felt like doing, and grow in whatever way pleased us. The reality, though, is that we need boundaries. We need focus to our lives—we select certain goals to pursue while discouraging others. Also, we try to cut out vices which are going to interfere with our growth and our relationship with others. However, from our vantage point we aren’t necessarily aware of everything that is shaping our lives—we don’t see the big picture. God does, and He can point out those things in our lives which we may not see, but which still need to change. In this way, God “prunes” us, and His pruning shears are the circumstances in life.

Generally, those circumstances are life’s trials. For example, my sophomore year in college, I was faced with a difficult roommate situation. My roommate, who I had believed was my friend, only wanted to use me as her counselor. When I refused to give her any more than what ought to be present in a friendship, she turned hateful towards me, and I was stuck living with her for a while. Through this trying situation I gained valuable lessons in character reading and honesty in communication. Also, I became aware of faults in me which played a role in getting me into this situation, such as a false sense of compassion that wants to “help” at any cost. As illustrated, the pruning process is a painful one; the pruning shears God uses are the trials and hardships that come up in our lives. It is those hard times which shape us, and it is through these times that God makes us into who it is He has created us to be.

During the pruning process, which is actually a lifelong and repetitive process, God is gentle with us. Although it hurts, pruning is an act of love because through pruning, one’s potential as a person or as a tree can be more fully reached. When I was pruning my peach trees, I carried my clippers in one hand and a bottle of plant balm in the other hand. Every time I would make a cut with my shears, I would seal it up with the balm, so as not to allow the tree to pick up an infection. In our life God treats us this way. He promises to allow us hardship for our own good and He promises to hold us through it. These promises are the balm.

The end result of pruning a tree is that you now have a tree that is healthy, well kept, good looking, and most importantly, bears fruit that is large, sweet and juicy—fruit that delights and satisfies all who eat of it. Someone who has gone through a pruning process comes out of it a more mature, well balanced, compassionate person who is a true blessing to those around him or her.

Sometimes, pruning is a necessity for survival. One of the papaya saplings in the orchard had picked up a case of root rot, and was slowly dying. Already the top of the trunk had rotted. One of the workers thought it was already dead and pulled it out of the ground, ready to take it to the garbage pile. During one of his rounds, the head gardener found it, and saw that it was still alive and called the rest of us over. We went to work on that tree. First, we cut off the top that was already dead. Then, we very carefully cut off the part of the root which was rotten. This was possible because papaya roots are tubers, just like potatoes. That process was laborious and time consuming because we tried to save as much of the good root as possible. When we had finished cleaning up the sapling we transplanted it to another spot on a little mound to prevent the possibility of another case of root rot setting in. in the next few days, the little papaya tree was recovering and starting to put out new shoots.

I think of people who can take hope from the story of the papaya sapling—those individuals whose lives are so messed up internally and externally that the rest of society rejects them as useless and fit for the garbage heap. In our society we’d think of them as the druggies, the prisoners, the poorest of the poor. They are also the people who carry on all appearance of success and prosperity while inside are on the verge of death. Yet God’s intervention in their lives can restore them completely.

An orchard contains much wisdom and much insight into the secrets of life. There are a lot of similarities between the way a tree grows and the way a person develops. The most important similarity one finds is this: a fruit tree needs the faithful skillful care of the gardener in order to grow to its full potential and bear good fruit. A person too will grow much more than he would expect and reach greater heights than he would dare to hope for through the presence of a sovereign and loving God in his life.

Religion | Catholicism


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