It’s been over a year since my husband and I moved to Taiwan from Hong Kong to join the work of a local church. Since my home church in Mexico sent me out for missions in East Asia almost five years ago, I had been living by a mindset that it’s my responsibility to be productive in whatever ministry God leads me to. And by God’s grace, I’ve been led to incredible ministry opportunities and have grown much in each of them.
However, in the past year, I haven’t felt as busy or “productive” the way I have in other locations I’ve lived in. Before moving to Taiwan, I served mostly in administration and media for an organisation ministering in red light districts. Now though, life has wound down quite a bit and I spend most of my time at home either studying for online school or reading books. So, this last year has felt like a time of “laying low” for me.
The extra downtime has prompted me to reflect on the years I’ve spent on this side of the world, which made me realise that I’ve been feeling weary for quite some time. There have been experiences and feelings that I need to process from my time in ministry but haven’t. These include experiencing hurt from within a church (which made it no longer feel like a home), the lack of encouragement in my pre- and post-wedding relationship with my husband from people around us (mostly for cross-cultural reasons), and severe loneliness.
As these continue to weigh heavily in my mind and heart, a dear friend whom I often confide in and ask for spiritual advice suggested one thing I hadn’t considered before: to ask God what He’s wanting to teach me or to prune me for in this season.
When I heard those words from her, I thought, “Maybe in this season of quiet and waiting, God IS wanting to prune me and remove these unhealthy and hindering elements in my life.”
The dictionary defines prune as “to cut off for better shape and/or more fruitful growth.” In horticulture, pruning is used to remove portions of a tree that have been killed or damaged by disease, pests, or even lack of sunlight. This process promotes a healthy development for the plant and allows room for new, fruitful growth.
Similarly, in the Christian life, God uses the process of pruning to heal and restore any parts within us that are damaged or dying (John 15:2). And, oh, how I need this.
As I thought some more about what God might be pruning in me, here are three things that came to mind:
1. A lack of faith that stems from wounds in the past
I’ve become so overwhelmed by different hurts and pains that I’ve lost sight of the goodness of God towards me, of His faithfulness after all this time. Many times, it feels much easier to dwell on anger, on how unfair people or situations have been. And yet, clinging on to bitterness and unforgiveness has only brought me more feelings of helplessness and despair (Psalm 73:21-22). I realised that even as I have tried my best to work towards forgiving certain people, I never quite moved past the confusion or hurt that resulted from those experiences.
2. A need to prove myself and please people around me
I’m learning to not act to please everyone around me, but rather to live solely to please Christ. One huge way I’m learning this is by investing more time in my personal walk with God and how I may know Him more instead of feeling the need to prove my character to leaders in church or ministry to make up for the fact that I lack a university education.
3. A tendency to see quiet time as an item on my to-do item list
God has also been drawing me to abide and rest in Him more, to depend on Him more by going to the Bible and prayer more. Before, for the longest time, I would only read my Bible quickly at the start of each day just to check it off my to-do list. In the last two years though, a practice my husband and I started upon getting married was to sit down with no other distractions (like phones, Netflix, etc.) to read a portion of Scripture and share in a devotional.
This daily activity with him has taught me to truly listen and meditate on the Word of God in ways I hadn’t done in a long time, and it’s something I continue learning to discipline myself in each day. Over time, I’ve noticed how this has afforded more room in my heart for peace as I’m learning to constantly give up my hurt to God (Philippians 4:6-7).
As I consider these issues—the need for healing and re-strengthening of my faith so I can focus on pleasing God and abiding in Him—I am reminded of the message in Hebrews 12:1-3:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (emphasis mine)
If a plant has infections, dead parts, or any kind of damage, it can’t grow to its full potential and must therefore be pruned, healed, and restored. In the same way, the pruning process (or “throwing off everything that hinders” as the writer of Hebrews puts it) enables us to thrive and finish our race well.
Knowing that my present difficulties can ultimately be transformed into growth, and that Jesus Himself came out victorious from trial and turmoil greatly comforts me as I walk along this path of restoration. It also encourages me to not give in to weariness, but rather keep enduring as I serve Him in ministry.
In asking and allowing God to prune us, we can rejoice knowing that the pain we experience now will produce only what is good and best for us (Hebrews 12:10-11).