The pruning of aspirations

by Don Hartness

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” – Luke 13: 6-9

If I had to give a name for this season in my life, I would call it the “pruning of aspirations.

Once upon a time, I had many aspirations as to what I would be and what I would do. Ministry, teaching, technology, and especially writing, were all a dream at one time or another. Regardless of the vision, all of my aspirations could be summed up in a single and simple prayer: “Thy will be done.”  I thought my aspirations were congruent with the Lord’s will.

Or so I thought. Over the course of the last year, all of those aspirations were irreversibly pruned away.

Writing was perhaps the most painful. For many years, writing seemed to be the ultimate aim and goal for my life. All other goals were seen as a means to this end. I saw it coming, looming larger and larger, the spiritual equivalent of the road to Jerusalem, where I would inevitably stand on the rooftops and proclaim what I heard in secret.

I’m not sure if it was a single swing of the hatchet, or many snips from the shears. Blogging (“have to build an audience first!”) gave way to finding other writers, voices, and opinions. Where once I thought I was a unique voice, I discovered that I was just one of many. My voice may be added to the swelling shout of a grassroots movement in Christianity, but it is in no ways unique.

Where once I thought my writing was of superior quality, I now saw that it was only in the sphere of an upper echelon, but not the highest echelon. “Good”…but not “great”.  “Talented”… but not “prodigy”. It’s easy to think you’re special when you are a big fish in a small pond. The Internet, however, is an ocean.

I then saw that even if I had a uniquely talented voice, it wouldn’t matter. So many blogs with thousands of followers, all from playing the “I like you; you like me” game on WordPress. Back-patting, in the form of comments and likes, pouring in by the dozens. Re-blogging and cross-linking. Everybody talking; nobody listening hearing. Nothing outside the window seeming to change.

And as for our daily bread? As one blogger succinctly put it: “All of my subscribers, plus $2.50, would buy me a cup of coffee.”

Know what I mean, dear reader? Of course you do! For you are one of us.

Once again, I questioned whether there was (or had ever been) real fruit in my life, or if the perception of fruit was just a delusion of my irrational mind, incapable of accepting the painful truth of a misspent life. “What’s the point of writing?” I asked myself again. “What’s the point of life? What’s the point of my life?”

And, like so many times before, I didn’t have an answer.

“Had one been available, the outside observer would have noted two things: that the items under discussion were not new – indeed the rhetoric suggested they were the subject of well-worn arguments which fitted neatly into a groove which those presenting them tended lovingly; and the love of discussion for its own sake. It was almost as though these lovingly tended arguments and the familiar discussions which went with them were being given an airing for their own sake; actual action, had anyone mentioned it, would almost have seemed like an intrusion onto private obsessions. An observer would have concluded that these were well-educated men at some sort of University seminar; the notion that unless action was taken, disaster might occur was quite absent.” – Talking, All Along the Watchtower (JessicaHof)

Two weeks ago, a breakdown breakthrough. It began with a week-long vacation in San Diego to see my kids. Although my children are just a few of the many casualties from my journey, they are the ones I miss the most. Three scant hours after arriving, I wondered if I made a mistake by coming.

Upon arriving, I discovered that my son had recently gone through a crisis, one that threatened his life. I was left out of it. This upset me greatly, especially since I could have done something to help, and I told him how I felt about being left out. As with many men of his generation, the discussion of “feelings” aroused the ire of my father. He saw my sharing as an attack on his grandson. A nasty argument insured. By the end of the night, I was about to turn around and go back where I came from, all before I even saw my two daughters.

As I was about to get into my car, my son approached. Without a word, he simply hugged me. Crisis averted.

What came next was more than I expected. Over the next twenty-four hours, we talked about a great many things. Through his words and insights, I began to see that my life was not unfruitful. Prayer, a few choice words, and faithfully fighting to fulfill my financial obligations, no matter how many times they crushed me or how many times I failed, had left a mark on him. Sure, he had his own share of problems. Don’t we all? But as he pointed out to me, they could be a lot worse.  The whole situation could be a lot worse. But it wasn’t. And I had a hand in that.

For the first time, I no longer saw my boy. I saw a man, one who had just given me the same kind of fruit I had sown into his life.

As my thoughts turned towards my dad, I began to compare the relationship I had with my father with the one I had with my son. Not only did I see the differences, but I also saw the reasons behind those differences. As I mused, an idea formed. The idea grew. Out came the laptop. Words began to flow. A new series was conceived. And the question of why I write was answered, not through ponderous thought, but by deliberate action.

I no longer have an aspiration to do this or that. “Thy will be done” is my only aspiration.

May my aspirations serve you fruit.