Two Forms of Pruning in the Spiritual Life

Apr 21, 2023 | Articles, Living in the World, Suffering with Christ

By Amber Kinloch

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:1-2).

While out in the garden this spring, I’ve been reflecting a lot on this image of pruning from the Gospel. To prune a plant is to cut away excess growth from it to make it more healthy, productive, or attractive. 

What does God “pruning” us look like? How does He do it?

Heavy Pruning—When God Cuts You Back to Your Roots

When I first set foot out in the yard this spring, there was some major work to be done. I cut away a lot of older or dead branches from different plants, reducing them to a remnant of what they were previously.

If you’d seen me working on these plants and knew nothing about pruning, you might have thought that I was going to kill them.  Similarly, we often wonder “How am I supposed to survive ___?” when God does some heavy pruning in our lives.

A loved one dies or a relationship is cut off or withers away. Someone loses their job and is left struggling to make ends meet.  A child’s family moves and they feel like they’ve lost all their friends. A family member is afflicted with a major health problem. Whatever it is, it seems to ruin your life.

It is hard when God prunes us in such a severe way. Saints speak of embracing the Cross and even thirsting for suffering, but most of us aren’t at the point of ardently desiring or accepting suffering like they did.  Instead, we might feel sad, angry, alone, or scared. We wonder if God loves us. If He does, why doesn’t He wake and calm the raging storm (Mark 4:35-41)? Maybe He’s forgotten us or isn’t all-powerful like we thought He was. Maybe He’s angry and punishing us.

It’s not easy to hear, but the answer to all this is simple: trust. God’s the gardener and Jesus told us we will be pruned if we are to bear fruit.

Those plants I cut back to almost nothing are growing back now and looking far better. They’re not a tangled mess, full of dying branches, or an ugly mass of overgrowth threatening to overtake the whole garden space.  What seems an utter disaster can be the basis for a whole new wellspring of growth.

Everyday Pruning

After the major pruning comes everyday pruning with a simple pair of garden shears. This is the kind of pruning no one might know is taking place apart from the gardener doing the work.

When I went to work on our Japanese Lace Leaf maple, I found a lot of tiny suckers sprouting from the trunk that you didn’t see unless you crawled underneath the tree’s canopy. I clipped all of these away along with a number of twigs and branches that weren’t growing in the right direction or which had died because adequate sunlight couldn’t penetrate through the tree’s canopy to them.

In our own lives, we’re all in constant need of this everyday pruning. We all have little things we’re attached to, things so minor we might not even notice their presence. Or maybe we know we’re attached to this or that, but we brush the matter aside “because it’s not a big deal.” Is that the case, though?

“The soul that is attached to anything however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for, until the cord be broken the bird cannot fly.”

St. John of the Cross

Think about the things you do or use each day.  How would you feel if they were taken away?  What if you had to change some part of your routine or give up or reduce the time you devote to a favorite activity? Would you be upset? What about the little pleasures you enjoy each day—a cup of coffee, a favorite sweater, hot showers, the seat heater in your car.  Could you give these up right now and not be saddened or annoyed? 

What about words of praise, encouragement, and thanks from others?  Do you feel letdown if you don’t receive positive attention from others?  What about acts of service they perform for you or gifts they give you?  Have you come to look upon these things as if you’re entitled to them?

Everything good we receive in this life is a gift. Oftentimes, though, we forget that. We take for granted the comforts and pleasures our everyday lives are filled with. We expect to be treated a certain way and are irritable and discomposed when our expectations are not met.

This is why we need pruning.  We need to recognize that nothing is ours.  It all belongs to God.  Recognition of this truth humbles us and fills us with a spirit of profound gratitude. Everything then is transformed into a path leading to Him, our true end.

Amber Kinloch

Amber Kinloch

Amber  writes from the bunker of her living room.  There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life.  Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.


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  1. Margaret McCarthy

    You have such sensible insights. I look forward to your columns. Thank you!

  2. Bill

    Great insights to work with, and especially timely for the season. I’ve been doing quite a bit of gardening myself, and although I’m not a gardener, I’m learning by doing!
    Thanks! Bill


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