Thinning the Forest

If you’ve never seen me operate a tractor, you’ve missed out—not because I’m some kind of mechanical savant, but because it’s hilarious watching me try to figure out what the heck a clutch is meant for, even after having it explained to me twenty times. I can safely say I did not miss my calling as a farmhand. Be the lack of my heavy equipment prowess as it may, I recently found myself perched at the helm of a large orange Kubota, my father, poor trusting soul that he is, riding around in the bucket with a chainsaw. Our task was to clean up the bases and trunks of beautiful old pecan trees mired in brush. It was hot. It was tedious. But it was crazy how different it looked in the after pictures.

I started thinking about how easily “brush” can creep into my life, slowly taking over the space my soul needs to breathe. I carefully plant trees, responsibilities I find enjoyable and meaningful, and tend them over time. But if I don’t keep the growth in check, poison ivy vines and thorn trees spread over what was once a clean landscape, little (or not so little) tasks that take more life than they give and that don’t fit my gifting. Pretty soon, my calendar is as overgrown as my anxiety. Even the mature trees can start crowding one another, creating a foreboding forest rather than an invigorating park.

In The Creative Call, Janice Elsheimer writes,

In forestry there are two main methods for removing timber: clear cutting, where everything goes down to the bulldozer and chainsaw, and selective logging, in which only the trees deemed past their prime are taken out. The latter is much like what we do when we start thinning out the things in our lives that take our time and energy without giving either back to us. We need to selectively prune away the things in our lives that are not life-giving, thereby allowing more space for the important things, more space for the “healthy trees” to grow.

It’s easy to get into the rut of routine. By keeping my head down, I can discover that I’ve been doing the same thing for years, and it’s not even something I love to do anymore. There may be someone who longs for that job, but I’m not giving them the chance to shine (while not living up to my full potential, either). When I exercise the wisdom and courage to look at my time with fresh eyes, and the ability to set boundaries, I can best honor how God wired me and why He placed me right here, right now, with these people.

Summer is the perfect season to thin the forest. It may take a bit of effort, but if you’re willing to make some hard choices, the life you’ll receive in return will far outweigh the cost. Here are a few questions to help you discover where some whitespace might be in order:

  • Think through your typical day, week, and month. Which tasks can only you do? Consider family, work, church, community, and personal responsibilities. (Definitely keep these.)
  • What are your “healthy trees?” Which tasks do you love to do? Which tasks are you gifted for?
  • Are there tasks you tend to dread, neglect, or procrastinate? Why? (Try to delegate as many of these as possible.)
  • Can you identify any other tasks that need to go?
  • What new trees would you like to make way for?
  • What might you do to thin your forest in each of the items you don’t want to keep (e.g., who should you talk to, what arrangements have to be made, etc.)?

The hardest part of pruning is the fact that there are real people on the other end of the tasks I’m giving up. I’d hate to leave them in a difficult situation, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone. When I’m in the middle of the brush, there’s definitely some heart work I have to do. After settling my gospel footing (I’m fully approved and delighted in by my Daddy because of Christ, and He never calls me a disappointment), I consider timing. If there’s nothing urgent coming up, it’s safe to call and give enough advance notice to get the job covered. But deciding I must prune planning for an event happening this week is irresponsible and unloving. I can put on my big-girl britches and deal (and kindly say no if asked to plan next time).

Forests are great, but they don’t belong in our hearts. We were made to enjoy expansive, light-dappled groves with gorgeous trees that bear the kind of fruit God had in mind all along. No poison ivy allowed.

How might you prune your tasks for the summer? What would you rather do with that time?

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