Last night I bragged all about my blueberries, my strawberries, and even my blackberries. My dear friends, older, wiser, and experts in gardening asked if this was their first year in the ground. When I said, “yes,” they cried:
“You need to remove that fruit! Pinch off the blossoms, too. Do not let those plants produce! Not this summer, and not next summer either.”
All week, we’d been so happy about those blueberries and those ripening strawberries. I had imagined my blueberry pies, my strawberry smoothies, my blackberry jam. There was no way I was going to destroy that young fruit and those beautiful blossoms. Who were these people to suggest I would have to be patient for two more summers? (I realize that most of my friends know this about berry plants. I somehow missed the information.)
“You have to. You just have to do it. Make your husband do it,” my understanding friend said. “But it has to happen.”
This counter-intuitive and destructive move would make my plants thrive. If I take away the fruit, the plant directs the energy and nutrients to the most important part of the plant: the root system. A new berry plant needs a few years to make an indestructible foundation of roots. Then, we can enjoy the fruit. It would take three summers.
“I know it’s hard. It killed me to do it to my own fruit plants,” another said.
So this morning, with my daughters (and me!) safely away from the garden, my husband prepared our plants for abundance by deliberately diminishing them. All night I’d been thinking of what my friend said as I sat there with my mouth hanging open, refusing to believe the truth about my plants. I had to figure out what spiritual process this represents, what truth about the universe this destructive act mirrors. The flair project depended upon my ability to find the right in the wrongness.
She said, with such love and wisdom: “You’ve lived here three years, right? Weren’t the first two hard? And now, in your third year, everything’s going so well.” I thought about the principle of three years. Maybe it was true. Maybe God knows that I need seasons of total emptiness, no fruit, not even blossoms, in order to get my roots deep and strong. I thought about marriage, of raising those babies to toddlers, of moving to new places and starting new jobs. I thought about years waiting for manuscripts to be published, friendships to form, community to thrive. It never all came together that first year, and maybe not even the second. But the third year? Fruit did come.
Maybe God feels like I do–the sadness, the loss–pruning away the obvious signs of productivity. In those years when nothing seems to happen, where nothing seems to bloom in my life, I’m putting down these awesome roots.
Just wait. It might not be this year, or even next year. In her book Anonymous , Alicia Britt Chole describes the spiritual process of our hidden years. She writes, “Abundance may make us feel more productive, but perhaps emptiness has greater power to strengthen our souls.”
Living with flair means I’m strengthening my soul when there’s no fruit in sight.