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We have an oak tree growing in our garden, the only variety of oak tree native to our state. When we bought our house 10 years ago it was a spindly little thing, but over the years it has grown to a magnificent height, towering over the bench it’s planted behind. It’s nothing like the gigantic southern live oaks of my youth, but for where we are now, it’s quite impressive.

We were recently struck with our first major snowstorm of the season. Heavy, wet snow stuck to everything and pulled it down with it’s burdensome weight. Power lines, fences and trees all snapped, succumbing to the forces of physics and gravity.

Sadly, half of our oak tree was one of the casualties. It split right down the middle of the main trunk, exposing the very heart of the tree. It was a deep wound.

“What do you think?” the Dear Designer asked me, as we examined the break.

I sighed. “I think we can cut it off here. We can leave the part that’s still standing and see what happens. It might die, but we should give it a chance.”

“Do you think we could bind it back together?” he asks hopefully.

“No, I don’t. I think it needs to be cut off.”

As we considered the fate of the oak tree, I began to see its wounds as a mirror. I have passed (am passing?) through a spiritual winter. I have felt the weight of that snow piled on my branches, and I have folded heavy under the pressure.

I have felt the pain as significant parts of me crack and split, those pruned parts bowing low in humility. I have been wounded to the very core of my being, my heart lying exposed.

Often, it has been lonely. Very often, it has felt hopeless. All I see are the losses, and the voids they have left, and the ugliness of where they broke off. My eyes are unable to see why the losses are necessary. For a while, I was hopeful that the lost part could be reattached, that if I just held it in place long enough then it would grow back together and be restored to me.

But what needs to happen is a pruning. A divine pruning by the careful and precise hand of the Master Gardener.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

John 15:1-2

Binding up my own wounds and reattaching parts of me that have been pruned is really not helpful, to me nor to the work God wants to do in me. This branch that has been broken, it was a weakness. It looked sturdy and strong, but when the “rain came and the winds blew” it couldn’t hold up. It fell “with a great crash” (Matthew 8:24-27). God knows those weak parts of me that need to be pruned. And even though it often doesn’t feel like one, it’s a mercy that he prunes them.

It is another great mercy that He redeems those losses, that He takes the wounds of pruning and cares for them tenderly.

God wastes nothing. Especially our pain.

…He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.

Isaiah 61:1-3

It is through our pain, our wounds, our griefs and losses that God has opportunity to work. He redeems them. And in the process of redemption we become Oaks of Righteousness. What a precious opportunity we are given–to offer our pain to God, and after He has done His work, to display His splendor for all the world to see.

It’s hard to stand with my feet planted and my arms outstretched while my heart, my throbbing pain, is lying exposed. I want to wrap those limbs around myself, retreat inwards while I allow time to heal me. But staying open allows God to do His work. It’s hard to have faith in a process that hurts so much and feels so wrong. But faith is just that, a trust that something will happen, even when it doesn’t look like it possibly could happen. I know that God is at work in the pain, and that He is refining this crooked, broken tree into an Oak of Righteousness. And the result will be for His glory.

Merciful Father, Allow us to know that You are working through all things to bring us into righteousness. Strengthen our faith that we may still trust You when the process is painful, and know that you are preparing for us a crown of beauty for our ashes.