We have some gardening tools that we call "loppers". I don't know what they are really called, but we use them to cut off dead limbs of plants and unwieldy branches. We use them to lop stuff off.
I had to use them yesterday, and that made me unhappy. We have two small bushes at the end of our driveway ("variegated wiegala", if you care), and one of them had a lot of stuff that HAD to come off. The other one was doing well, but dear husband said it needed to be cut back anyway: "It needs to be done. It will be good for it." I knew that, but it was hard to cut off live branches with fresh leaves on it.
We hang out with a bunch of Franciscan Sisters, and they have a big farm, including an apple orchard. My friend Julie was working in the orchard one spring with Mother Mary Ann. Mother Mary Ann told Julie that they had to strip some of the freshly-sprung apples on each branch of the tree, so that the fruit left would get the nourishment, sunlight and inspiration it needed to grow. Julie didn't want to: why take off perfectly good fruit, she argued? Mother Mary Ann, a wise woman, allowed Julie her way with one branch. "Leave the fruit", she told Julie, and Julie did.
In the fall, when we were harvesting the apples, Julie could see the fruit of her labor (couldn't help that; sorry): a branch with tiny, hard apples, unfit for, well, anything. The rest of the tree, with fewer apples on each branch, offered bright, shiny, beautiful, sweet fruit. Julie had been wrong.
Julie and I have both learned a hard truth: sometimes you have to lop off what appears to be good in order for growth to occur. If a tree or bush tries to spread itself too thinly, so to speak, the fruit suffers. We are the same way. We try to stuff too much stuff into our lives, and we wither. We might be doing really great things with our time: reading edifying books, hanging out with the smartest and wittiest people, curing leprosry and making millions. But too much of a good thing is still too much. We end up with a lot of bad fruit, weak branches and tiny flowers. As hard as it is, we have to lop stuff off.
The real trick is knowing what to cut out. And that is where God comes in. He sees not only the whole tree, but the entire orchard. If we leave ourselves in the hands of the Master Gardener, He will trim exactly and only what is needed. No more, no less. That means we will end up with healthy, strong and beautiful fruit: a life of bounty and abundance, if we are only willing to be lopped.