“For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (NRSV)
Many churches celebrate the season of Lent, which is the time of fasting and prayer that occurs 40 days, not including Sabbaths, before Easter morning. It is a tradition that emphasizes the 40 days Christ spent being tempted in the wilderness and the suffering Christ experienced on the cross. While not all Christian traditions celebrate Lent as a community, I believe it is a great practice for any person of faith.
We all grow in our walk with God, much like a tree or branches on a vine, but with time, we grow comfortable, complacent, and lazy. This is a natural process for all of us. We grow, but sometimes without direction, and we get bogged down. Fruit trees–from apples and pears to peaches and plums–require pruning in order to produce the maximum amount of fruit and to maintain their health year in and year out. The farmer will first cut away dead branches. Next, they thin out small branches in order to allow light and air into the canopy. Lastly, they will ‘head back’ the strong limbs by cutting away as much as 30% of last year’s growth. All of this tending allows the trees to begin new growth with renewed vigor, excess weight being tossed away, and triggers early hormone production so that the trees bear more fruit with less branches and leaves. The spiritual practice of Lent is our opportunity to prune.
Many people will ‘fast’ during Lent by giving up something like chocolate or soda. While this can be great for health and can certainly be suffering (looking at you, chocolate) it misses the point. We need to prune away the parts of our lives that are spiritually fruitless. Anything that is not bringing us closer in our relationship to God and neighbor needs to be evaluated, changed, or cut. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control are the things we should focus our lives around. Centering on Christ and cutting away the excess distractions will help us produce the maximum amount of fruit and grow healthier year in and year out. Once we have trimmed our branches, we reach Easter and celebrate the resurrection of Christ which releases within us a new life that allows our faith to grow in this new season and sustain us all year long.
I invite you this spring to cut away something that holds you back, and embrace the opportunity for something new to grow. If you want to know more about Lent, Fasting, or other spiritual practices, ask your Pastor. If you don’t have one, call me, I’d be happy to help you or find someone who can.
Rev. Dane Wood, Associate Pastor
Collierville United Methodist Church