A garden hose and pruning shears.
My dad regularly had these things in his hands when I was a kid. I don’t know where he gained his love for trees—but his admiration for all things topiary was clear (and he passed some of that on to me!). He’d talk to them as he watered and pruned, coaxing them to grow and bear flower and fruit. I recently came across a house I grew up in (Zillow has multiple purposes!) and couldn’t help but notice the size of the trees in the yard—the trees I had to steer very clear of during my first days of maneuvering a lawn mower. My Dad followed the Grecian philosophy for a great society from his early days.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”
Pruning trees is a critical process. We had a small apple tree of some type (maybe it was a crabapple? I can’t be sure now). Dad carefully and meticulously selected the branches and lopped them off. I remember my immature brain thinking, “Why would you cut off a perfectly good living branch? What a waste.”
Turns out, my dad had way more wisdom than 8-year-old me originally thought.
Pruning is an instrumental part of horticulture. Pruning is also an instrumental part of life.
There is biblical wisdom here.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” John 15:1-2
Pruning is a good thing because it is a God thing. It is a wise path to fruitfulness.
But leaders of all kinds struggle here.
Leaders who have a FOMO (fear of missing out) struggle most. Even knowing that to prune is an essential part of life, ministry, and leadership.
Pruning is Hard
It’s tough to cut things out of our lives. Especially things we like. Things that feel right. Things we enjoy. Looking at my life to evaluate what I should prune triggers FOMO. I hesitate, even if I know I’d be better off without this in my life. Pruning hurts.
Sometimes pruning looks like the destruction of real growth.
I’ve been practicing this hobby for years with hopes of monetization, and now I’m thinking about eliminating this from my life? Ouch. (I had to do this with photography.)
Pruning makes you to decide. Will you pursue this? Or will you pursue something else?
In most cases, you can’t have both, and it can be an onerous decision.
Pruning is Important
Pruning is important because it helps us focus.
A lesson I’m learning right now is how to embrace our limited time on earth. Limits make FOMO a completely pointless attitude. No one can do it all. Everyone will miss out on a lot of things. Pruning turns the fear of missing out into the joy of missing out! As we look carefully at the branches of our lives, we think about our long-term impact. We ask mindful questions like, “What is the fruit I’d really like to see in 10 years? In 50 years? In 1000 years—well after I’m gone?”
Failure to prune a fruit tree will mean less fruit. It will also make the tree highly susceptible to disease and blight. Pruning can be lifesaving for us. I know people (and I’m sure you know people) who are so busy they are experiencing stress-related health issues. If that’s you, pruning may not only save your ministry, it may save your life.
Where Do We Begin?
There are a lot of viable tools for pruning a tree. You may need a chainsaw. Sometimes a pair of hand loppers or even a sharp knife will do.
The same is true for pruning in our lives and organizations, programs, or outreach efforts. We can’t consider all the options here, but I want to give you an all-purpose personal pruning tool today. This is like the sturdy pair of sharpened lopping shears my dad would carry around back in the day.
This tool was developed in the 1940s by a 5-star general who later became the president of the United States.
President Dwight Eisenhower, like anyone who runs a country, was a busy guy. After leading all Allied troops during WWII and then taking on the president job during the globally tumultuous post-war years, he had a lot on his plate. Eisenhower developed a helpful pruning tool (known as the Eisenhower Matrix) that I use for myself and when I work with clients. You may have seen a version of this in the past. Here’s how it works.
Any activity you do is important or not important.
The same activity is also either urgent or not urgent.
Eisenhower created a grid with four boxes using these criteria. This will help you rank an activity on the importance and urgency scale and help you determine how you need to prune.
Not Urgent/Not Important – The Path to Nowhere
These are activities like winning today’s Wordle or getting through the last season of your latest Netflix binge. It’s not that these are inherently bad things (I haven’t done today’s Wordle, yet — but it’s coming!) or that we should never do these kinds of activities. But if most of your activities are in this quadrant, you are on a path of purposelessness leading to nowhere. Seriously consider some major life choices. Do some big time pruning of your whole life to see growth in a new direction.
I’m not overly concerned that too many of you on the field are on this path.
I’m more concerned for many who may be on one of the next two paths.
Urgent/Not Important – The Path to Mediocrity
Our lives with constant notifications put us in the place of feeling the urgency of nearly everything. Urgent doesn’t mean important. Your job is probably not “Email Checker” or “WhatsApp Notification Responder.” Someone else’s urgency doesn’t have to be your important. If we don’t prune in this area, we end up on a path of distraction that will lead to a destination of mediocrity and unfulfilled expectations. Simple pruning, like turning off notifications and scheduling a time to respond to emails, can be a game-changer.
Urgent/Important – The Path to Burnout
Unfortunately, I know too many cross-cultural workers who live right here. I was one of them.
Urgent and important things must get done. Right now. If there’s more than one urgent/important task on the list, stress builds because it’s impossible to get everything done. Right now. Even the most gifted can only do one thing at a time. This is a path of stress that leads to burnout. Failure to prune in this quadrant leads to blight. It’s why so many leave the field or ministry altogether. Burnout is never noble and doesn’t have to be inevitable. Here are a couple of ways to prune in this area.
Be free – you don’t have to agree to everything that’s asked of you. “No” is a complete sentence!
Be intentional – You are inevitably going to drop a ball. Choose which balls to drop and where you’re going to drop them.
Not-Urgent/Important – The Path to Fruitfulness
This is where you want to spend your best time and where you have your greatest impact. This is a path of excellence that leads to fruitfulness. How many tasks and projects on your list have a high level of importance, but don’t have a deadline? Schedule time on your calendar to work on those things. These are the activities that bring about the greatest long-term yields!
Pruning is hard because:
- It hurts
- It looks like we’re destroying growth
- It requires decision making.
Pruning is important because:
- It prevents disease
- It brings focus
- It results in more fruit over time
- It makes us think about the long term.
Use the Eisenhower Matrix as a guide for pruning your activities so you grow, thrive, and experience long-term fruitfulness.
There’s a complexity to pruning your life and any organization, project, or ministry you may lead. We hope that this will help get you started. Reach out to me at Growability.com for more help in this area. Watch for more pruning ideas as Global Trellis helps us get back to basics. The Forgiveness Workshop is a great place to start.