Growth, whether human or not, is not linear, but multi-branched, multi-dimensional, and growth happens in many ways. When I observe the natural world, this realization strikes home.
We can see the effects of pruning on plants, which results in new growth in a different direction. Pruning roses not only improves the appearance of the plant, but allows it to put more energy into leaf and bud growth. We know how easily weeds seem to pop up as if by magic, as they spread their seeds by diverse means. Many plants propagate by means of underground runners. Ever try to contain bamboo? It’s not easy. Flowering plants branch off in many directions, often following the sun. Growth is not only up, but also down and out. Two similar plants can take on very different looks over time.
Human growth is more mysterious and complicated. We understand physical growth, but when we feel we have grown from an experience, what is it that we actually mean? That we have strengthened human virtues of compassion, wisdom, and understanding? That we are somehow a more fulfilled person? That we have a better roadmap in negotiating certain situations? That we have a better grasp of a certain skill? What are the practices that help us to continue to grow?
The way we respond to adversity influences our growth as human beings. Is adversity a way for us to acknowledge our shortcomings or weaknesses and use that experience to become stronger? Does it give us new insights? Does it help us to put our priorities in order? A plant responds to the stress of pruning by putting out new growth. Do we respond the same way to adversity?
Jesus used agricultural imagery to communicate important truths to his listeners: planting and pruning and harvesting are reminders of our living connection to the source of all life. Food and drink produced from this work is used in celebrations that call to mind the great banquet we all will ultimately celebrate in the presence of God and God’s people in the fulness of the Kingdom. We are called to reflect on the ways that we are planted, pruned, and harvested.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (John 15:5,8)