Pruning the Heart

A visitor to our convent stopped to admire our roses that line the path up to the front door. “What beautiful roses!” he said, “How do you keep them so lovely?”

Well, we don’t have time to give them extraordinary care. We water them on a timer and prune them. They seem to do the rest.

As we begin a new liturgical year, and the time of waiting for the Lord in Advent, the theme of pruning has been on my mind. Not of roses, however, but of the heart.

I like to think of God as the gardener, who comes in the right season to prune my heart. He comes to take a critical look at what is growing in me, what needs to be trimmed to encourage more growth, and what is unhealthy and needs to be lopped off altogether.

Here are three lessons I have learned as I allow God to be the ‘Gardener’ of my life.

Lesson One: Pruning is painful.

No matter how gentle the Gardener is, the trimming is painful. We get comfortable with our habits, the way we say and do things. And, although not all of our habits are harmful, even too much of a good thing can become an obstacle to growth in the Lord. And so, the Gardener comes in our prayer this season of Advent wanting to prune away the excess of our lives so to make room for the coming of Christ.

Out of fear, I want to hold some of my branches back, out of the way of the holy pruning hands of God, believing I will not be able to endure the pain of loss. The challenge of this season is to trust, that whatever we give over to God, He will make what is good even more so, and that which is harmful, He will heal us from our dependency. Yes, giving it over to God to be pruned is painful, but in the end, we are better for it.

Lesson Two: The Gardener never prunes without our permission.

Then, what do we do when God wants to prune our heart of something? We know, perhaps, how much the pruning will cost, not fully sure we want to trust the Gardener. He understands us better than we understand ourselves, and will never force us to resign anything to Him. No. He will allow us to hold on to even those things that might be harmful to us because of our free will. But He will come and ask us to let go. He will wait until we are ready to turn our lives over to Him.

Many times in our lives, we go through the externals of doing things because others expect it of us. But are we acting freely in these moments? Are we freely choosing to do the good? God’s asking permission to shape us through the art of pruning the heart, He hopes we will allow it, not just begrudgingly, but wholeheartedly.

Lesson Three: There is no plant too unruly for transformation in God’s garden.

God is patient with us, yes, in His waiting for our readiness to turn our lives over to Him. He is the Gardener who intercedes for the barren fig tree in the orchard, who ‘leaves it for another year…cultivating the ground around it and fertilizing it, that it may bear fruit in the future’ (Luke 13:8). God is equally patient with us, giving us the graces to be fruitful in our lives too.

What is it in your life during this Advent time that, perhaps, God is wanting to transform, to cultivate? Where in your life are you not bearing fruit? How might God be calling you to conversion through His care?

Advent is a beautiful season of the Church calendar. A time of preparing the heart to ‘make room for the Lord at Christmas.’ It is a time for reflecting on the “reasons of the season”, calling us back to examine our relationship with God, which then takes us to consider our relationship with others (these two are forever connected).

We are called by God to turn our hearts over to Him. In our giving permission to transform us, we are telling God, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”