The Comfort Branch
Marti Wibbels, MS, LMHC
In the past 53 years, my husband Alan and I have moved 21 times. I used to refer to our moves as either Major Moves (moving from one city or state to another) or Minor Moves (moves within a city or town). Alan gently reminded me all of our moves were “major,” especially when they involved moving our baby grand piano! Neither of us particularly likes moving, but we do like going wherever God leads us. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, He calls each of us His ambassadors. What a privilege we’ve had simply serving God, living from coast-to-coast in the United States, and on mission trips in Russia, France, Costa Rica, and Guatemala!
Perhaps each move was an answer to prayers I’d prayed before I even met Alan. Someone encouraged me to write a list of qualities I wanted in my future husband. As a 17-year-old college freshman, I hesitated, because I couldn’t imagine meeting the man I’d marry, and I knew I wasn’t wise enough to know how to pray for him. So, I put only one thing on my list: for a man who trusted God. With each of our moves—from Kansas City to California to Colorado to Nebraska and Florida—Alan trusted God (and helped me learn to trust Him, too) to lead us where He wanted us to serve Him.
The most challenging move for me was from Colorado to Nebraska, where we bought a bargain three-story 100-year-old house that had been neglected for years. A cracked fountain and unkempt yard barely hinted at its turn-of-the century beauty. Our oldest daughter named the house “Camp Kill ‘Em Young” because of its continual projects—with our family stripping multiple layers of wallpaper, discovering leaky plumbing, mowing the triple-sized lot, refinishing vast wrap-around porches and scraping paint on the exterior—amidst a continual parade of curious strangers who showed up unexpectedly at our door to see our “progress.” Neighbors urged us to get professionals to help shape up the huge yard, so we hired expert arborists to prune the overgrown ancient trees.
When the tree trimming crew arrived, the man known as Boss explained why extensive pruning was essential. (This man loved his work!) Pointing emphatically to a large maple tree, he exuberantly exclaimed, "There are two reasons trees need to be pruned. One: insect infestation! If you don't trim the excess foliage, your trees are going to be destroyed by insects getting inside them!” Like a concert master, emphasizing each word with his hands, Boss continued, “The other reason: storms. If the wind can't blow through a tree, a storm will knock it down!"
Back inside the house, listening to chain saws ripping through huge branches, I thought about a parallel in the Christian life. If God doesn't "prune" my life, I can be destroyed either by something in me—an attitude, a thought pattern or a behavior—or by something outside of me, like the "storms" of life.
Suddenly, I remembered I didn’t ask the tree crew not to prune my favorite tree, an American linden sprawling near our back door where I could watch it from the porch swing or a kitchen window. Whenever I missed the majestic mountains of Colorado and my friends there, I focused on one exquisite branch swaying in the breeze, sunlight shimmering on its leaves. No one knew, but I thought of it as my "comfort branch."
I ran outside just in time to see Boss finishing off the “comfort branch” with his chain saw. As the beautiful branch toppled to the ground with a decisive thud, I burst into tears. The gruff foreman climbed down, clearly puzzled. "What's wrong, lady?" he asked. I stammered something about how much I liked the branch and tried not to look where it lay, destroyed. The foreman spoke decisively, showing me its rotten core, "Lady, that branch had to go; it was dead!"
For comfort, I had been turning to something dead! Walking into the house and drying my tears, I asked God to forgive me for trying to find comfort in something that clearly could not provide it. When teaching Bible studies, I’ve often described an idol as “anything we turn to for comfort besides God.” Had a branch imperceptibly become an idol to me? I thanked God for delivering me from false comfort and praised Him for the authentic comfort He faithfully provides.
I opened my Bible to John 15:1-5 (NASU), where Jesus explains, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Each of our moves has steadily “pruned” me, helping me rely on God instead of people, places, or circumstances.
Later that afternoon, a neighbor knocked on my back door—the one looking out on the now-bereft tree. She enthused, "I had to come tell you how beautiful your house looks from across the street at my house! You know where that big branch was?” I nodded. Pointing at the gaping space, she continued, “With that out of the way, sunlight is streaming across your house! It’s like God’s light is covering your house!"
When a pruner got rid of my silly source of comfort, light replaced something dead with joy others could share. As my life continued to move forward, I learned new ways to put my hope in God and reach out to other people with His love.
We all lose perspective sometimes, don’t we? If you notice you’ve been focusing on "dead things,” please ask God, the master gardener, to lovingly remove them so you are free to enjoy His peace, comfort, hope and strength. Oh, how He loves YOU!