The Regular Practice of Pruning {and the price of neglect}

The Regular Practice of Pruning {and the price of neglect}

Long before we lived here, someone planted an ornamental pear tree right outside the kitchen window. In our years of inhabiting this place, it has been home to squirrels scampering up and down its trunk, frolicking in the branches. Most mornings, it sings, or rather the birds perched on its branches sing and fill the kitchen with music before I’ve turned on any electronic device. Once, a snake, six feet long, black and terrifying, slithered up its trunk as we watched both in horror and fascination.

In the spring, the blossoms burst white and remain green for all of summer. They yellow in the fall as they drop to the ground, joining the neighboring trees in scattering the driveway with a carpet of autumnal beauty.

Kids climb its low limbs and recently my husband was up in the tree, contorting around the trunk to saw a few branches that were long overdue for a pruning. Since we’ve lived here, some of the tree’s upper branches have scraped against our neighbor’s second-floor windows.

So one day this week, without notice, our landlord showed up with a hand saw, then a chain saw, and began cutting away the branches my husband could not reach. For an entire afternoon, large limbs crashed to the ground outside our kitchen windows, seemingly dropped from the sky. As our landlord dragged limb after limb to his waiting trailer, I could only wonder what would be left of the tree when he was finished.

The result shocked me. After he left, I dared to look outside. My stocking-feet picked up the wood shavings that littered the walkway from the driveway to the porch and from the house, the tree looks bare. That whole side of the house has a different look to it. We can see through the tree now and no branches touch the house. I gasped when I saw a birds’ nest on the ground, but my husband examined it and found it to be empty. 

The tree has been quieter the past few days, or maybe it is just my imagination.

“It needed to be done,” my husband says. As much as he does not like to see the tree in this state, he can admit that it was a necessary action.

Me? I’m just saddened that regular pruning over the years was neglected. Maybe this extreme action could have been prevented.

At least we still have the tree. My husband says by next spring it will be filling out again. For now, it just looks wounded.

Is this not the way of the life of faith as well?

Long before I was aware of it, a seed was planted in me, tended with care, watered and protected until my roots were stable enough that I could stand on my own. Like a tree that just wants to reach the sun, I grew up and out, bearing the little fruit and beauty I had to offer. And like a tree, I experienced a season of dormancy. It looks like death but it’s part of the life cycle, necessary for growth.

As years passed, I continued this growth, unaware that sometimes growth can be harmful. At least, untended growth. When a plant or a tree has too many branches to sustain all of them well, the whole tree suffers. And pruning takes place.

Pruning always seems like the worst idea. I’ve watched with a pained expression as my husband cut off half of a dead rosh bush, only to watch it flourish the following spring. The cuts, they are beneficial, I know at least in hindsight, but in the moment I want to scream “NO!”

It is even harder to admit when my life needs pruning, and if I neglect the regular practice of pruning, then maybe I will find myself in need of a chainsaw and a drastic reduction of spiritual limbs. This affects not only me but the lives that depend on me.

What does spiritual pruning look like? I can’t say for sure. For me, it sometimes looks like journaling my feelings. Sometimes like seeing a counselor. Confession—to God, to others. It might be saying “no” to some activity. The idea behind pruning is to stimulate growth. It’s like a directing of energy to the most important stuff.

I’m terrible at this. But I know I would rather do a regular evaluation of my time and energy and practices and cut out the things that don’t feed the main limbs than have to make drastic cuts later that leave me wounded and bare.

This, too, can be a gift. I’ll let you know how the tree fares next year.

Do you have regular “pruning” practices? What are they? How have you seen growth in your life through these practices?


Lisa Bartelt About Lisa Bartelt

Lisa has been writing stories for more than a decade, first for newspapers and now as a freelancer, blogger and budding novelist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Read more at her blog, Beauty on the Backroads.


  1. Lisa, I enjoyed your thought provoking blog very much. Just today I looked at my trees and shrubs and know a pruning is sorely needed and the job on my to-do list in a few weeks nearer Fall. I think a lot of spiritual pruning and so want it to be ongoing rather than drastic. On my mantle is a little ceramic lamb with the word SIMPLIFY on it and I use visual to help me balance things.

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