It’s the middle of spring as I write, but it may not be spring for you, no matter what time of year it is. There is a certain chill that tarries with grief, despite the season. But there are other truths that accompany the ever-changing climate of grief, each as certain as the dawn and the shifting of the sun and rotation of the Earth. It is your God who changes the seasons, and it is He who can restore in the middle of your winter.
By His might alone are the heavens formed and sustained, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. The God to whom even death must bow satisfies the Earth with the fruit of His works, and He can satisfy the thirst of your barrenness too.
He restores all things—He will restore you. Even now, the process has begun. The Vine supplies what is needed, and your pain will bear good fruit when the Vinedresser lays His sure and gentle shears to the task of pruning. But do you dare to let Him? Is it safe? Let’s consider: Cutting in order to restore might seem an odd combination, but God’s ways are higher and so are the results.
Listen to the famous words from the Gospel of John:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. . . . Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1– 2; 4–5 ESV).
You see, for the Vinedresser it’s personal, because His Son is the Vine, and you are the branches. His purpose is multifaceted, but restoration is the primary goal. The task is carried out in love and incisions are made.
Pruning of grapevines is always done in the winter while the vine is dormant. The enterprise aims at selectively thinning any competing shoots or branches that show signs of disease or that may infect the surrounding branches. Left to their own, grapevines grow too dense with insufficient amounts of “fruiting wood.” Circulation becomes stymied, and the vine cannot breathe.
You know the feeling.
The vinedresser focuses on increasing fruiting wood, but does not allow for too much fruit at the wrong time, which would cause the vine to lack the energy and nutrients needed to grow and fully ripen.
A secondary goal is to train the branches to grow on a structure conducive to harvesting and which conforms to the trellis on which it grows, thereby establishing its future. Restoration pruning focuses on re-establishing a vine, particularly after a storm to assure its recovery and strong springtime growth. The vinedresser is tender and strong at the same time; confident and decisive, and he knows the character and tendencies of each “member” of his vineyard. It is so with you and with your grief.
You see, restoration gives back more than has been taken. This is the victory! Like the man from the synagogue in Mark 3, we stretch out our withered, grieving existence, and Jesus restores us. It is the nature of God’s abundance. His restorative grace exceeds and runs over the boundaries of death because His love cannot be contained. This is the “more” of Ephesians 3:20 and it cannot be measured.
But first . . . there is pruning. No need to cower. Listen: His pruning is His embrace, and all that is required is your consent. This is the meaning of “abide” in John 15. To be pruned is to rest.
Some remnants, common to life and grief, have names you are familiar with, and they have stolen from you; but thus far you have not been able to remove their hold on your own. This is because the Vinedresser has been waiting to do it for you, to restore you. I will give some of them a name, but you must be the one to present them to the Vinedresser for pruning.
Whether your finger is pointing at yourself or at someone else, these must undergo pruning: resentment, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, blame, regret, unwise or hurtful relationships, worldly vices, and false comforters. You may immediately know when you read the words if their presence has afflicted your mind and heart. They are bitter to the taste, and defile your grief, the memory of your loved one, and your future. Yet you have made a counterfeit peace with them; maybe even embraced them as friends. If you hold them near, they will taunt you and dishonor the one you have lost. They will turn on you and your grief and demand that someone pay for your loss.
But that’s the point—Someone did.
My friend, the overflowing grace of each season is yours, and the promise of the Vinedresser to restore you is sure—even if life feels permanently dormant now. The sacred fruit of your grief will thrive, and your roots will continue to grow deep and steady you. Because for the Vinedresser, don’t forget, it’s personal.