The Pain of Pruning and Joy of Growth


About 6 years ago, one of my closest friends bought a house that had some huge rose bushes in the back yard. These plants were an impressive 4-5 feet tall and 4-5 ft wide. They even had a few bright, beautiful flowers here and there…but overall they were scraggly. They had very few leaves and very few flowers because they hadn’t been thinned, pruned, deadheaded, or fertilized for a long time. The previous owner had either ignored them, or become completely overwhelmed by them.

I convinced my friend that they could use a pruning, and she trustingly said that since I was the horticulturist, she’d let me do whatever I thought best. So we picked a day for her to watch our gaggle of children and for me to work on her roses.

Since I love pruning, I got into the scraggly mess and got to work with gusto - taking out the dead and diseased wood, cutting back the long leggy stems, and thinning out the middles to allow sunlight and wind to reach all parts of the bush. Next thing I knew, I had a mountain of thorny branches on the grass and very small - really stumps - of rose bushes remaining. I started to panic. What had I just done to my friend’s roses?! Did I really know what I was doing? Would they ever recover? I took them from their 4x5 foot mass of 100s of stems to stumps of about 1 foot tall with only 5-10 stems. I said a quick prayer that I hadn’t completely destroyed her roses. And then, while my stomach was churning, I started cleaning up the branches. I got scratched while pruning, but double scratched while picking up. It was miserable work.

My friend said we’d just wait and see. Trusting in horticulture's wisdom more than myself. So, we waited, added some fertilizer and mulch, and waited…for about 4 weeks. Those weeks seemed so long as I waited to see if I had killed her roses. But then we saw the first few leaf buds starting to swell and unfurl. And then another month or so saw new, strong, green stems start to grow. No roses yet, but stout stems and healthy leaves. Then finally about 4 months after the massive pruning project, the first buds started to show. The flowers that those roses produced that summer were amazing! Those bushes were a pink blaze of glory. All of that pain, hard work, and worry had found an end. A beautiful end.

I’ve been thinking that those roses are much like our family’s VCS journey so far. We had been hobbling along homeschooling for several years, doing okay on our own and even making a few roses here and there. But there were so many things we didn’t know how to handle, got overwhelmed by, or were playing it safe in - not wanting to go deep and prune out our bad habits. My bad habit of simply pushing aside assignments I didn’t want to or know how to teach, or our children’s habit of whining and not staying focused, or my habit of never sticking to self imposed deadlines. But we knew that if we wanted to see strong, vigorous, beautiful growth, that we would need some help and pruning - even painful pruning.

And boy, did it feel  like we got hacked down to 1/4 of our size in an intense and crazy way over the first quarter! There were so many tears on my part and the parts of our children. There have been many times I’ve cried out to our Father that this is too much. That I am too tired. That I want to be done. I want to go back to the safe and easier place. I want to be left to just bloom a few flowers here and there.

But now we have started to see our children begin to grow and change. We’re starting to see more and more how their campus teachers are loving them and walking with them and helping us train them. We are starting to see glimpses of the fruit that we have been praying and hoping for. We are starting to see the leaf buds swell as those 1 or 2 phonograms get a little easier, another row of math facts gets mastered, and one more subject is moved over into cursive, but most importantly - we’re seeing our children start to taste what hard work produces and like it. They’re little things, but we are starting to taste what is coming.

There is still work and many more pruning times ahead. But to see God’s grace towards us in giving us an intense time of pruning and to be able to see some fruit - that is a true gift. So, rally on VCS families! And remind me of the same. May God bless the adventure we are on together and give us courage to keep inching forward--to see our children and ourselves grow and flourish.

Jody Strom