Over the course of my adult life, I have established some pretty great friendships. There have been more than a handful of women in my life who have become close friends. Not just casual acquaintances. Not simply frequent yet cursory relationships, but true and deep friendships. The kind where you tell each other hard truths, support one another in difficult life moments, and truly sharpen one another, making each other better.
This sounds wonderful until you realize that God has ripped each one right out of my life.
Thankfully, these ripped out friendships haven’t ended. I am grateful that none of these many relationships have terminated because of a painful misunderstanding or betrayal. God simply chose to leave me here in my small town while uprooting friend after friend. I’m talking at least six very dear friends in 15 years.
It led me to wonder, “What the heck is wrong with me? What is God trying to teach me? Why can’t I just learn the lesson already and keep a friend longer than a few years?”
I was lamenting this way to one of my dearest, though uprooted, friends a while back. We spoke at a time when yet another friend was preparing to move. From our conversation, I knew this wasn’t just in my head. She saw it, too. God really was plucking out friends from my life. Because she was one of those true friends I mentioned, she was kind enough to point out a fresh perspective on the matter. She knows me very well. She knows how I long for close, deep friendships. She also knows I would be completely content to have just one friend like that…at the expense of other friendships. Maybe, just maybe, God knew I was good at friendship, knew women needed a friend like me, and knew I wouldn’t reach out to those women on my own if I was completely satisfied with the one bosom friend.
That took some pondering over.
Months after this conversation, as I spent time reading the Bible, my heart leapt as I read,
“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.” (John 15:2, emphasis added)
I had been focusing my attention on the first part of this verse, where God takes away the unfruitful branch. Each loss of a friend was painful to me. I shed many tears over each one. Because it was painful, I assumed it was punishment. I was afraid that maybe I was idolizing my friends, and that was why God kept hacking them out of my life. I thought He was hacking out something ugly in me.
As I read those words again, I saw the second part more clearly. Where God sees sweet fruit, He skillfully prunes in order to produce more abundantly. Perhaps God was not taking away something undesirable in me with the removal of each friend. Maybe, instead, the Gardener saw ripe fruit in my friendships and deliberately pruned me to cultivate more sweet fellowships. It is incredibly humbling to believe God sees good, truly good, fruit in my life. And that the Master Gardener would care to tend my lowly branches? That thought brings me to tears.
As I look back now, I can see that without the removal of each friend, the next lovely, treasured woman wouldn’t be in my life. I am an introvert, and as such, the idea of reaching out again and again to basic strangers with the offer of friendship is a risky way to use energy. Left to myself, I would have clung to my one friend, oblivious to the other hearts around me looking for deep connection. With the meaningful snip of pruning shears, the Lord urged me to look around. And each time I obeyed, my eyes would find the gaze of a kindred soul, ready for a new friend, too.
This concept of pruning to bear more fruit has me curious. Could there be a situation in your own life where you have been mistaking pruning for punishment? I encourage you to look into your pain with a fresh perspective. There’s a chance God just wants to produce more of the goodness He sees in you.