John 15: Down to the studs

I am a rotten gardener, but I am an even worse handyman.

And yet, for the last few months, the same prayer continues to come to mind: Strip me down to the studs, Lord. I guess I’ve watched too many of those HGTV shows about home renovations.

In John 15, Jesus talks about being the true vine to which we are all branches, and says that the dead vines get thrown into the fire while the living ones get pruned so they will grow even more. But maybe HGTV needs to show more “G” shows and fewer “H” shows, because the vinedressing analogy just doesn’t resonate with me like the home renovation one, even though I think they convey the same thing. The parts of us that are aligned with love need to grow, and the other stuff needs to get stripped out.

(BTW, after grousing last chapter about how John’s Jesus calls his disciples to follow his commandments without actually commanding anything, in this chapter he is explicit about what his command is, and, as was my educated guess, it’s to love one another. I’ll have to fix that last chapter “in post,” as the filmmakers say.)

I *know* that my life is a poorly designed and awfully decorated wreck. The habits and rituals I have are like the rooms that are laid out with somehow both too much clutter and too much dead space. There are walls where there should not be walls, and some of the doors seem to lead off a cliff. Perhaps you’ve seen that episode.

The funny thing is, it’s easier for me to see the design disasters than it is the “good bones” that lie beneath them. When I pray “down to the studs,” I have a lot clearer sense of what I know I need God to get rid of in my life than I do what good foundations remain. That’s probably not that different than the vision that motivates most New Year’s Resolutions (remember those?); we know what’s wrong with us that we need to shed, better than we know what’s really right with us.

But that’s also what makes the shows on HGTV work, too, isn’t it? If we could all see what the better design choices were, which wall to demo in order to open up a new flow, etc., then we wouldn’t need those twin guys or the married couples who host the show to work their magic. We’d just need contractors who show up on time.

That might be why, as gardeners, it’s a lot easier to throw everything in that pot of brown branches out and start over. Or why all the old homes in my neighborhood seem to get bulldozed to make room for a brand new McMansion. Just as the folks in the Bible seem to fall into the trap of separating everyone into sheep and goats and 86-ing all the goats (I think? Sometimes I get confused about which of those is supposed to be bad), so we can think our lives are all weeds and dead branches and rotten foundations.

The magic in the HGTV shows, and maybe by analogy the wisdom of God, is to see the potential that’s lying beneath the bad choices, just waiting to be released through some creative demolition. It’s been an interesting spiritual practice to reflect on what I think the “good bones” are in the foundation of my life. But the truth is, I can only guess at what God sees as the foundation worth building on in me. All I can do is, like the desperate homeowners, turn over the keys and watch what unfolds.

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