Late last year, an early freeze killed back a lot of our bushes and trees, but they have been growing out around the dead branches now that spring has arrived. I am not an avid gardener, but aesthetics are important to me, so I have been hauling around clippers and trimming everything to support the new growth. One enormous lilac at my back door died back significantly. Afar after two days of hour-long sessions hacking away at it, I’m a fourth done.

I tend to be a “finisher.” I set goals and work toward them. I like to have clear ideas about how long something is going to take, and see my progress. I can often, in the process, forget to enjoy myself while doing it. But the lilac, like so many things in my life, requires slow, steady work, diligence, patience, and time. In a week or two, I will have it finished and it will be beautiful. But until then, it’s lopsided and ungainly with a pile of dead branches next to it. It is teaching me to slow down and enjoy the process.

Plants, I think, appreciate being taken care of. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I cut away the dead growth so they can breathe. But being out in nature with nothing to do but think, I started comparing the lilac to my life. Over time, we grow too fast and then die back. We wind up with dead growth in our souls—branches that need pruning. It can be damaged relationships, or unrealistic expectations dashed, or sinful impulses that we indulge rather than deal with. But unlike the lilac, we can prune ourselves. Learn to see what is wrong, think about it, see the consequences it has had in our life, and cut it away. It may take us a lifetime, like kicking a bad habit (gossiping, deceit, fear, any host of things that have become “habits”), or it might take five minutes. But… we can do it, or we can wait for the Gardener to do it. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do it! He might trim a branch I am not ready to get rid of just yet.

We cannot control the world around us. None of us knew at this time last year that a pandemic would keep us home for weeks. Shut up in our houses, learning who we all are. What we do in a crisis. How we handle stress. Whether we like our family or not. Think of it like… the world has frozen ahead of schedule, like the winter freeze that hurt my shrubs. Faced with nothing else to do, we can ponder our branches and consider what we value most, and decide what to do about ourselves, and what we want out of life, going forward. Because we have nothing else to do. No distractions. We can take something depressing and make it a time of personal growth.

Maybe things need tended within ourselves. Maybe they need tended outside ourselves, like me taking the time to notice that lilac needs my attention. Though you have to stay home, maybe you can go out into the world on the other side of this closer to who you want to be.