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Toward Wholeness Blog

When Life produces Too Much Life: The Value of Quitting

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.  – Michael Porter

There’s a forest in m

y backyard.  One day earlier this summer I was sitting in on the deck that overlooks that forest when my neighbor, a former forest service ranger said, “when this area was logged, it was never replanted, so there are actually too many trees in your forest.”  He want on to explain that the same principle of pruning that applies to vines and vineyards, applies to forests.  “Get rid of the skinniest trees.  They’re taking nutrients, but they’ll never get enough light to grow.  They’re just taking up space.” 

Too many trees.  Too many buds on the vine.  Too many activities on the calendar.  Too many goals on the wish lists.  Too many leftovers in the garage.  Too much life.

A book I’m reading called “Necessary Endings” states that we need to  “accept the fact that life produces too much life”.  The author continues:

One reason pruning is needed is the fact that the bush produces more buds than it can bring to full maturity.  Any bush that is alive and thriving is producing more and more buds every cycle.  And any person or business that is thriving is doing the same.  Life begets life.  That is normal.  But it can be too much, as well.  Life can produce more relationships than you can nurture, activities than you can keep up with, strategies and goals than you can execute.

That’s why forest manager remove the skinny trees, why the farmer prunes the vine, why Jesus left one place, in spite of an entire city clamoring at the door, to head elsewhere.  Nobody can do it all.  We need to periodically get out our shears and prune our lives.  How does this work?

1. Recognize your main things – We need to make space for our primary gifts and calling to rise up so that we can do what we’re most fundamentally created to do.  These are the trees that need to stay.  I’m a teacher (and therefore a learner), a visionary, a writer, a husband and dad.  Those are the five biggest trees in my forest, my five most important roles.  Do you know your five biggest trees?  It’s normally to have lots of trees growing in the forest when we’re young, but eventually the time comes when we need to prune, and the pruning comes by looking around and asking ourselves which trees both a) give us joy and energy and b) are affirmed by others.

2.  Recognize the ecology of the forest that is your life.  There are five big trees, but for a forest to thrive, there needs to be a whole ecosystem so that your whole person, body, soul, and spirit, can be healthy and feed your trees.  Exercise, friendship, coffee with God, good food, and sleep are all part of the ecosystem.  Neglect any of them and the whole will suffer.  These elements, though, aren’t my trees.  I ski – but I’m not a skier.  I read my Bible and pray most days, but I’m not a monk.   When we try to be experts in 20 things, we grow weary, and do nothing well.

Our progress in life comes from settling in, nurturing a few significant gifts, a few significant relationships.   This starts, though, when I recognize that I’m generating more ideas, relationships, and activities than I can successfully nurture.  “Too much” always becomes an exercise in frustration, where we feel as if we’re in a video game and everything is coming at us so quickly that we no longer have time to react.  I’ve lived that life of “too much” too often.

3. Cut the trees that need to be cut – In other words, quit stuff, so that you can focus on the few trees and healthy ecosystem that is your life.  One author talks about his practice of “Quit Anything” Thursdays – an idea whose time has come for many of us.  Far from imprisoning our lives, or cheating us of joy, pruning is the key to healthy, focused, fruitful living.

4. Go slow to go fast.  The counter intuitive element for we who like activity is that we need to stop, regularly, and assess where we’re at with all the activities and obligations that constitute our life, asking whether we know what our main trees are, and whether we’re nurturing them adequately.  This, in itself, takes time.  And there’s the rub.  If we’re too busy for this kind of thoughtful quiet, too busy for coffee with God, then we’re on a road to nowhere.

Jesus words about pruning vines come in the context of his simple invitation for us to “abide” in him, which means developing a spirit of dependency on Christ, acknowledging that the story God wants to write through our lives, the trees he wants to grow; these are the best.  Thus we listen, pray, respond, and let the pruning, and fruitfulness, and more focused, restful life, begin.

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