Pain in the summer is never fun. Not that pain is ever enjoyable, but the summer just seems to compound the frustration. Everyone is supposed to be enjoying life and the weather, and you feel like crawling in a hole and never coming out.
Last summer, I sat on the back porch with a couple of friends after my kids had gone to bed and my pain spilled over to them. I looked at my life and wondered what on earth I was going to do moving forward. Generally, I like to keep a tight lid on my stuff; opening up seems vulnerable and raw. But this night was one where the honeysuckle smelled sweetest, the warm air wrapped me up in a hug, and the crickets sang from their little homes under the grass.
It all came pouring out, and was received in such a gracious, loving way.
After I was done talking, my friends prayed for me, asking for direction and hope in the days ahead. And the most powerful piece of that was when one of the girls popped her head up and remembered the story I had told her earlier in the evening about my backyard.
You see, it’s a beautiful backyard but not because I made it that way. We bought the house from a landscape architect, and he had worked magic in that space. My only job was to maintain the thing, and I was terrified. I asked the previous homeowner to show me around the yard and tell me what to do with all of it to keep it alive.
She did walk me around, but ended with a shocking statement: “Just cut it all down to the ground in early spring and it will come back like you wouldn’t believe,” she said.
I didn’t want to cut it down to the ground! That sounded like certain death for all those beautiful plants. As I chopped away the first time, I was convinced that was the last I’d ever see of my lovely oasis.
But I did it. And she was right; it came back like a jungle!
My friend remembered this story and told me that was often how God works in our lives. We cut it all down in what feels like a terrific death blow. We give up all our “good works” done in our own strength, all our mistakes, all our pain, and cut it all down. Sometimes it looks like we are barren ground. But then God rushes life in and brings back a jungle in an explosion of color, scent, and beauty.
I learned that night that I couldn’t let my fear of more pain or my regret over my mistakes define my growth moving forward. I had to cut that down and allow God to take it all. Jesus brings life, but so often I want to hold on to my dead stuff left over from last year.
And He says so gently to me, “Cut it down, child, and let me show you what I can do.”
I will put the cedar in the wilderness, the acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert together with the box tree and the cypress, that they may see and recognize, and consider and gain insight as well, that the hand of the LORD has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41:19-20)