It’s been a warmer winter than usual, so the rose bushes were already starting to show some new growth and the beginning of buds at the end of their straggly winter branches. I hated to prune them and was tempted to just let it go. If I did, we’d have new rose blooms maybe even by the end of next week, and that would add some cheery color to our landscape right away. The pleasure of that early bloom, though, would soon be offset by leggy, straggly looking rosebushes and not nearly the lush, full bushes loaded with abundant flowers we so enjoy all spring and summer.

Some of the branches are easy to prune with the heavy duty lopper. It is kind of energizing, taking big swaths of thorny but otherwise barren sticks out of the way. The thorns on these are big and visible and if you handle them carefully you can avoid getting pricked. Once those “big pricklies” (as I call them) are trimmed comes the more delicate job of trimming the smaller, more delicate branches. These are the ones that I find hardest to cut. They are often intertwined, and often the smaller branches are the first ones to show the young red nubs that we know are the beginning of the roses we love. The thorns are at this point really just small and hair-like, so they aren’t as visible but every bit as painful when your hands or wrists brush them. When those little things get stuck in your fingers, the pain continues even when they can’t be seen, and sometimes even after you’ve removed them with tweezers. Sometimes I wear gloves, but usually I can’t find them when I’m ready to work so I just dig in there and make a silent vow afterward to either find those gloves or buy new ones for next time!

Finally, removing all of those trimmed rose branches from the beds is always a dangerous task. They have to be cleared away, but even though they’ve just been trimmed back and are about to be tossed, they still have the capacity to inflict pain all the way to the curb, no matter how carefully we try to handle them. Yes, the roses are going to be healthier and bring us more joy because we are taking these difficult and painful steps now, but that doesn’t make the task any more pleasant.

Again, my yardwork from this past weekend provided me with time to think about how this task, too (along with weeding) can serve as a metaphor for other unpleasant, but necessary actions in life.

I thought of the times we had to apply some firm discipline to Dave’s kids when they were younger. We could have a conversation about why they needed to stop a particular behavior or why we were going to “clip their wings” for a while as punishment for something, and that would usually work. But the silent treatment, or the things they’d say in an attempt to hurt us as much as they thought we’d hurt them still stung. It would have been easier to just let things go sometimes – after all, they didn’t live with us full time. We could trade discipline for a lack of conflict and an easier, more enjoyable weekend. But that wouldn’t have been good for them in the long run and the short term lack of action would have had more detrimental impact for them down the road.

“Pruning” excess or unhealthy habits from my diet and lifestyle is also necessary but painful if I want to be healthier and more comfortable moving forward. I love to cook, and one of the ways we show love in my family is through food. Dave and I are committed to pruning some of the food habits we have come to love from our daily routine. I know it’s better for us to have celery sticks in the fridge instead of chips and salsa, and he knows the celery is more nutritious, but it still “pokes” at me during this transition time that I know what we’d both really like as our after work reward before dinner is a nice bowl of chips and guacamole with a margarita or two. We know this hard work will result in a better long-term result, but sometimes it isn’t easy to do.

Closets, the kitchen pantry, the garage, the “junk” drawer(s) – all of these tangible things could do with a good surgical pruning from time to time. It’s an unpleasant task, and sometimes it means parting with things that once were necessary or even beloved (in the case of my closet) that no longer serve me well. Other times it can be cathartic, like getting rid of paperwork and clutter from a previous job or “fat pants” that are no longer needed. Either way, once the work is done, I feel satisfied and I also know that the streamlined aspect of whatever it is whether it’s a clean closet or easy to find scissors in the junk drawer.

But what about the intangibles? As we get older, I find myself coming to a better understanding of what the real but invisible “big pricklies” are that I want to work on in my life like procrastination, unhealthy self-talk, gossip, or worry about things or people I can’t control. Unlike weeding, a good pruning doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of these things altogether – I can trim them back so I can grow in a healthier and more productive way. Once I’ve done the initial pruning of the big pricklies, will I have the courage to do the more surgical work, those smaller habits or even people that have started to take energy and time away from the “new growth” I’m trying to cultivate?

Weeding and pruning. Unpleasant and difficult tasks that can clear the way for a healthier, more beautiful, more satisfying lawn, garden, and life.

The first cut is the deepest.

Cat Stevens
oldie but a goodie 🙂

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