Pruning Your Life

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jun 20, 2009

"Grateful people learn to celebrate even amid life's hard and harrowing memories because they know that pruning is no mere punishment, but preparation." 
Henri Nouwen

For some reason I have been thinking a lot about pruning this spring. Actually, I began thinking about it in the dead of winter because that is the best time to prune our butterfly bush. Sometime during late January or early February I take my pruning tools and walk outside for this annual ritual. I usually take it down to about waist height so we can see those new shoots just off our back porch.

As soon as I finished the butterfly bush, I remembered how tall our Asian pear tree was becoming. So I got my extension ladder, walked to the back of our house and there went to work pruning that healthy, vibrant tree. We also have a very young yellow delicious apple tree that needed some shaping and pruning. 

My winter pruning caused me to apply the same effort this spring in other places to my garden. From the wisteria to the forsythia and from the hydrangea to the ivy, I applied my pruning tools. I removed the old, dead branches. I thinned the thick places. I shortened the tall shoots. 

I even decided to thin out two clumps of my decorative saw grasses. They had been growing for nearly ten years into huge masses of beautiful displays. For the past few years I had to tie them up to keep them from bending over to the ground. But I also noticed that the centers were slowly dying. When that happens they need to be dug up and the dead parts must be removed. For about two hours I worked digging them up and pruning them back to new, healthy clumps of grass. 

Several other plants like mint tea, ferns, daylilies, black eyed susans, and lilies of the valley can easily become invasive on other plants. They need perpetual pruning to keep them in their places. Even my hostas needed to be divided. 

Any gardener knows the importance of pruning. And as I pruned, I thought about all that was taking place. Unless the dead, fruitless branches are removed, they will hinder the healthy ones. Unless some bushes and grasses are thinned, the centers will die and that death will jeopardize the very life which is trying to come forth. Unless the invasive plants are kept in their place, the garden can become cluttered with too many plants trying to grow in the same place and none of them will flourish. 

Already I am seeing the evidence of good pruning. Fresh life with deep green leaves is emerging from those overgrown plants. I can't wait to see the abundant fruit on those trees. As I pruned I feared that I was harming the plants but now I see the evidence that I was really helping them realize their fullest potential. 

Our lives need pruning, too. We can get root bound. Our centers can die. Old branches need to be removed so fresh life can emerge. Dead wooding and dead heading are not optional. Too often we take on more obligations without eliminating anything. Our lives get cluttered. Even we can become invasive in areas which reduce our efficiency and productivity. 

Perhaps it is time to take out our pruning tools and go to work on our lives as well as our gardens. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "As the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, so should you stop off your miscellaneous activity and concentrate your force on one of a few points." 

Of course, we must use great care when we prune. Most gardeners do not use a chain saw to prune a flower. But as John Trapp said, "Better to be pruned to grow than cut up to burn." 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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