I had to prune Kevin down to about half his height. Apparently the dead wood would be in the way of new growth.
In late 2007 I got fed up and removed all the conkers our four year old had scattered across the garden, but Kevin’s conker escaped the purge. We found the seedling that sprouted from it under a sandbag the following spring and Kevin lived and grew and moved with us for eight years. When he was three feet high and just about too big for his pot, he was adopted by Wotton Community Sports Foundation and planted as a feature tree. This delightful turn of events turned sour for Kevin when local deer took a liking to his sticky buds and tasty bark and munched his top half to death. WCSF provided Kevin with a big new deer-proof jacket & he’s raring to go with this year’s sticky buds, but 3 years-worth of main stem had to go.
Thus far in my life, nearly all of the (comparatively minor) physical and emotional pain I’ve experienced has been self-inflicted – by having a family and by falling off my bike. I have seen plenty of other people’s pain and have probably been to more funerals than you, but I can’t speak with any personal experience of major betrayal, injury, illness or loss. As a church leader, funeral celebrant and ‘community personality’ I do a lot of listening. Speaking out pain helps people to make sense of the waves of grief and anger and to plot their own course through injustice and pain. Speaking can be cathartic and listening therapeutic. But sometimes I’m called on to speak. What can I say when my own experience of pain is so limited?
Jesus said I’m the vine, my Father is the gardener and you are the branches. The gardener prunes the branches to make them even more fruitful. Old wood and dead material is cleared away to make space for new growth and fruit. In both my own limited experience of suffering and in the lives of those to whom I have listened I’ve seen the pruning hand of God at work. It’s not always obvious in the years of loss and pain, but the presence of God and the experience of perseverance and learned lessons can lead to flourishing and fruitfulness that may never have happened without the pruning.
The idea that loss and suffering can lead to gain and flourishing is at the heart of the Christian message. Jesus death – the ultimate tragedy becomes the source of forgiveness, friendship with God and eternal life for all who believe and his resurrection is the d-day defeat of death and the devil. So our suffering is swallowed up in the unstoppable victory of God and his good purposes over all opposition.
Often as I’m listening, God gets the blame. But as people talk it out, it becomes apparent that there are a thousand other culprits in this broken world – muntjacs, me, you, them, powers and authorities we can see and understand and powers and authorities we can’t. All are allowed by God to exist with free will for the time being and all will be called to account on the day of Jesus’ return (okay maybe not the muntjacs – they were just doing their thing).
For me this Christian view of suffering is so much more satisfying that saying ‘**it’ happens.. When you think about it, you can’t even say that much if we’re just Godless phenotypes configured by selection pressure. ‘It’ happens would be more accurate – there being no positive or negative value to what we consider to be suffering.
Apparently Horse chestnut trees take at least 14 years to flower and produce their own conkers. Kevin hasn’t got off to the best start and no doubt there are more challenges ahead, but maybe his conkers scattered across the lawn will irk dads in generations to come. Any maybe, just maybe, my pruning will create space for a 300 ring trunk..