By Christel Humfrey
I’m approaching an anniversary I would rather forget.
On June 20, 2013, floodwaters covered my town and my home. I wasn’t home when it happened. I was at the doctor’s office receiving a lupus diagnosis, and needless to say, my world was shaken. My health and my home were things that made me feel safe. They were familiar. They were part of me. To have them both taken so suddenly left me feeling insecure and adrift. I thought I had my identity in Christ. I had recently taught about it at a women’s retreat. But suddenly I was asking, “Who am I if I lose my health?” “What use am I?” “What’s my worth?” It’s hard to be weak and it’s hard to cost other people something with your neediness. It really stripped me bare. Did I have worth apart from my contributions?
My home was my realm, my kingdom. It was the place that I spent the majority of my time. I devoted my life ordering, organizing and pushing back the chaos, and making a pleasant space for my family to grow and to rest. When my home was taken so was this role.
I was suddenly asking if Christ was enough. I knew that he was, but I felt utterly shaken.
Over the past year, I have been forced to wrestle with what it really means to be united to Christ in his death and resurrection. Is it merely a tidy bit of theology to stretch my mind or is it a life-breathing reality with very practical implications for my life?
Vines and Branches
One of my favorite biblical illustrations for this union is the vine and branches pictured in John 15. Here we learn that:
The Father Prunes Us
Seeing the Father as a vinedresser has helped me to understand my circumstances. God does not impart grace to us at the moment of salvation and then leave us to our own devices. He continually works in us and cleanses us with his pruning. As John Calvin says in his commentary, our vices would “grow and multiply without end, if we are not cleansed or pruned by the hand of God.” And we need this work of grace in us in order to produce more fruit.
I, like anyone else, have idols that give me a false sense of security. But God is in the business of removing false securities. I’m discovering that it’s easy to do things right when you are feeling good and your world revolves around you. But during times of pruning, God takes away some of these securities for our own growth and spiritual health. It is hard to have the world that you have painstakingly created for yourself taken from you in some way, especially if you do not see it as the loving hand of God working for your good. But the things that we enjoy in this world are fragile, and as I am learning, it is good for us to feel unstable—to feel our inadequacy in the frailness of our life.
Christians go through fruitful, happy seasons of life and also sparse, difficult seasons. God’s hand is in both situations. It’s tempting in the difficult seasons to feel abandoned or like you are a failure. But perhaps God is pruning you. Perhaps you are growing in ways that you cannot see immediately. With every pruning, God is stripping away our false sense of security that we are tempted to make our identity.
19th century author and hymn writer, Elizabeth Prentiss says it so well:
God never places us in any position in which we can not grow. We may fancy that He does. We may fear we are so impeded by fretting, petty cares that we are gaining nothing; but when we are not sending any branches upward, we may be sending roots downward. Perhaps in the time of our humiliation, when everything seems a failure, we are making the best kind of progress.
Even in our inadequacy we can hope in God. This vinedresser cannot fail. When he prunes, it will produce fruit. As the apostle Paul says to the Philippians, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Christel Humfrey is a pastor’s wife and mother. She has a B.A. in music with a minor in ballet. Against all odds, she fell in love with a cowboy and is forever thankful that the size of his belt-buckle didn’t deter her. Together they have three sons and minister in Calgary, Canada. In her free time she enjoys blogging at foretasteofheaven.blogspot.com.
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