With temperatures warming and days lengthening, activity in our backyard garden has increased. We’ve tasted the first-fruits of the harvest (asparagus, radishes, lettuce). But with this early harvest I’ve also had to confront one of my least favorite parts of gardening: thinning seedlings. A few weeks after sowing a row of seeds, effective gardening technique calls for thinning; namely, the removal of young plants to ensure healthy plant development and robust harvest. But I hate to thin plants because I don’t want to see anything that I planted go to waste. I hate thinning because I worship growth. I long for any growth.
This year as I undertook the task of thinning garden plants, I realized its spiritual corollary. Just as healthy plant growth requires thinning, so does healthy growth in our inner lives. My reaction to spiritual thinning is similar to my reaction to horticultural thinning. I don’t like it. I prefer to cherish any sort of growth in my life and am unwilling to consider that some areas of growth should be thinned to improve overall health.
In his powerful book, You Can Change, pastor and author Tim Chester, talks about this idea (although he uses the related metaphor of pruning not thinning): “Just as I was cutting off every shoot that was heading in the wrong direction, so God cuts out every desire that is heading away from him…God’s pruning always makes us more fruitful.”
While I may think that my ability to answer questions and offer wisdom to friends shows my spiritual growth, God may prune me to be a patient listener. Real fruitfulness—His fruitfulness—isn’t found in haphazard, indiscriminate growth. It is the produce of the Master Gardener. As Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-17)
The hard truth to remember when it comes to cultivating our gardens and our souls is that thinning allows for good and healthy growth. If you have a backyard garden, don’t neglect the torturous work of thinning. And likewise don’t neglect or despair at God’s work of thinning in your life. It is His way of making you spiritually fruitful.