More than Surviving, Thriving

The Fruit of the Vine

“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[a] so that it will be even more fruitful." John 15:1-2

I have always wanted to grow grape vines. Not because I am particularly found of grapes but because this discipline is so often mentioned in scripture in both the old and new testaments. I wanted to understand these many metaphors better, to understand the maker and lover of my soul better.

In the early years of our little family, I must have pictured God, the gardener, as this quite spirit drifting lightly through the flowers like a breeze. He tenderly whispered to the fruit and vegetables to grow and they gladly obeyed. He shooed away the pests and they simply found other unprotected gardens to feast on. O.k, so maybe I wasn't that naive but that was the kind of gardener I wanted to be.  I thought the plants and the weeds and the critters and I could all live happily together with little more than a sprinkler for them and an ice tea for me. HA!

I now see God differently than before but I love the image of my heavenly Father as the gardener  even more. This is what I have learned from growing my own grapes. 

Growing Grape Vines takes WORK. 
Not back breaking dangerous work but it takes constant diligence and watchfulness.  Every evening we had to go out (I, with my bucket of soapy water, my husband with his bare hands, ew!) and remove every beetle, larva and egg.  Even though they only ate the leaves most of the times they would bring birds to our grapes which we knew were waiting just as eagerly for the fruit to ripen as we were. We would also inspect each bunch of grapes to remove the ones that were turning brown so it would not spread. The endearing thing about this was we soon knew each cluster of grapes well. We could see daily and weekly changes that the average on looker probably would not have noticed. It is good to know that our father protects us and knows us that intimately. 

Growing Grapes is selective
The hardest thing for me as a gardener has always been pruning. I wanted to give every limb, leaf and weed a chance to prove their worth. My mother used to tell me pruning was just giving the plant a hair cut.That might be part of the problem. I can probably count on one hand how many times I was happy with a hair cut I have received. Even at the end of a successful year though I find myself wishing I had pruned back my vines a little more. 

In pruning the vines we direct more of the nutrients in the soil to the fruit. Those branches that reach for trellises where there are none only add weight to the ones that are clinging to the trellis. They don't produce fruit but they were covered in leaves which only steals energy from those branches doing all the work. 

I can't tell you how many times God has taking people out of my life that were only stealing my energy and weighing my down. I wanted so badly for them to be fruitful but were heading in the wrong direction, refusing to go where the gardener had provided the support for them. Sadly, to protect the other branches, they had to be separated from the vine.   

Growing Grapes is humbling
It addition to pruning the branches that are not producing, we had to thin the leaves pretty heavily. Grapes love air and sunlight. The giant leaves hide the grapes in shadows that cause them to rot. So even these healthy branches that faithfully abide in the vine have to give up their beautiful canopy of leaves to give light to the fruit.  This was hard for me because vines without leaves are not nearly as lush and photogenic. (Luckily, our daughter's turtle loves grape leaves for her bedding so it helped me knowing they were going to good use, hehe). 

But isn't this hard for all of us? When we do good and produce sweet fruit for God don't we want to stand in front of it for all to recognize what we did? Instead, we need to just let the light shine on the good deed to bring glory the Gardener. 

Growing Grapes is dependent on the Vine
Finally, I learned that if you accidentally remove a vine that has little grape buds on them they will not produce fruit no matter how healthy they look. They may stay green longer than any cut flower ever dreamed of but those little buds will not make sweet globes of goodness no matter the condition. Believe me, I tried. Now I have not tried grafting a branch into the vine but I hope to next year, just to see what it takes to do it. This is a metaphor Jesus uses to explain how we are adopted into the family of God and made heirs of His treasures. But one thing is certain the branches are not much without the life of the vine and the care of the gardener. 

These are all things I understand a little better now from growing grapes. I also know now how much I love fresh grapes and grape jelly. I never liked it much from the store because it was so full of sugar. Our homemade jelly is so much more complex and interesting with it's natural sweetness and delicate twang of wine and a real appreciation of the attention that went into each bundle of deep purple jewels. 

I hope this is how God someday sees the fruit I produce by clinging to the vine and bending to His care.   

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