Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, to make it bear even more.’ (John 15:1–2)
These words open a new perspective on suffering for me. Pruning helps trees to bear more fruit. Even when I bear fruit, even when I do things for God’s kingdom, even when people express gratitude for coming to know Jesus through me, I need a lot more pruning. Many unnecessary branches and twigs prevent the vine from bearing all the fruit it can. They have to be clipped off. This is a painful process, all the more so because I do not know that they are unnecessary. They often seem beautiful, charming, and very alive. But they need to be cut away so that more fruit can grow.
It helps me to think about painful rejections, moments of loneliness, feelings of inner darkness and despair, and lack of support and human affection as God’s pruning. I am aware that I might have settled too soon for the few fruits that I can recognise in my life. I might say, ‘Well, I am doing some good here and there, and I should be grateful for and content with the little good I do.’ But that might be false modesty and even a form of spiritual laziness.
God calls me to more. God wants to prune me. A pruned vine does not look beautiful, but during harvest time it produces much fruit. The great challenge is to continue to recognise God’s pruning hand in my life. Then I can avoid resentment and depression and become even more grateful that I am called upon to bear even more fruit than I thought I could. Suffering then becomes a way of purification and allows me to rejoice in its fruits with deep gratitude and without pride.
The opposite of resentment is gratitude (from the Latin gratia = favour). Gratitude is more than an occasional ‘thanks be to God.’ Gratitude is the attitude that enables us to let go of anger, receive the hidden gifts of those we want to serve, and make these gifts visible to the community as a source of celebration. Gratitude is at the heart of celebration and ministry.
Let me try to sum it up and describe it in this way. Beginner’s mind is a readiness to always be in awe, to always be excited. We see it in children and in people who don’t filter everything through the brain. Beginner’s mind is one’s mind before the hurts of life have made us cautious and self-protective.
A classic gathered community of relatives and friends, grieving together, illuminates the humanity that binds us all. Grieving and sorrowing also disturbs our perspective – brokenness and blame, belief and benevolence.