My hydrangeas didn’t produce many blooms this year because I pruned them at the wrong time (You’re supposed to cut the branches at the end of their bloom cycle in the fall). Five bushes managed a total of five flowers all summer. My mammoth white bush did a little better, but only because it’s more established and we had a warm and sunny fall.

When we started a major remodel at our vacation rental last October, home yard work lost priority. By the time I realized I’d forgotten my hydrangeas the weather was cold and wet. I wasn’t willing to slog through the mud to do the job. When I got around to it in the spring I ended up cutting off new buds in the process of forming. I should have known better; I did that once before and missed a whole season of blooms.

How often have I done this to people as well? Nipping off new growth that might have led to beautiful blooms as they mature.

God has been convicting me about my tendency to cut people off in conversation. Why do I think my words of wisdom or humor are more important than the other person trying to finish their sentence? What buds of thought am I interrupting that might bloom too late or never be retrieved because of my rudeness? How does this influence the way they feel in conversation with me—safe, heard? Or unimportant.

I’ve also cut people off emotionally. On days when my patience is down to the nub, I may not literally cut people off in traffic, or in line, but I do in my mind. I see someone I recognize at the store and avoid that aisle so I don’t have to stop and talk. Or I mentally check out from a conversation because I’m on overload.

I’ve cut off individuals who have hurt me in the past—intentionally or unintentionally. Even when I’ve forgiven the offense, my protective pruning shears lop off any of their attempts for a renewed relationship. It’s too painful to trust. The buds never take form.

What about others who have never offended me, whom I hold at arm’s length based on hearsay?  I cut off the possibility of friendship out of fear or suspicion; the hope in them withers.  How does this affect their view of Christ or their fledgling faith? Will they be drawn to Jesus in me, or will their yearning to know more about Christ fall to the ground before it can bear fruit?

Sadly, we do this in our churches too. Not everyone feels welcome. People who haven’t bathed in a while, those who struggle with addictions, former inmates, individuals who’ve never learned how to sit still or don’t know church “etiquette,” feel cut off from the fellowship they see others enjoying. Sometimes the words are even voiced: “You’re not welcome here!” Where is the grace in that? This untimely pruning destroys the beauty God has created them to bear.

One of my favorite prophecies about Jesus is from Isaiah 42: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (mentioned again in Matthew 12:20). Jesus isn’t harsh with those already beat up by life. And He doesn’t snuff out (or cut off) any spark of faith struggling to grow. All who seek Him are welcome.

There is a time for trimming, but as with hydrangeas there’s a right and wrong way to prune. Jesus explained God’s methods to His disciples: 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 15:2). His purpose is to increase our fruitfulness, not punish us. And His pruning is in the context of a loving relationship, not to push us away.

I realize it’s wise to put distance between ourselves and people who would do us harm—those with evil intent. I pray we will ask God for discernment to see the difference between invaders bent on sucking life from our branches, and the tender shoots our Savior has lovingly cultivated to be grafted in to the Vine. We only get this by remaining in Him—our true Vine—steeped in His Word and listening to His voice.  

#interrupting #cuttingoffnewgrowth #unwelcomingchurches #righttimetoprune