This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Release and growth

Grace and Truth column

A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, “I’ve waited three years and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s taking up space we can use for something else.” The gardener answered, “Give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, you can cut it down.”—Luke 13:6-9 NLT

These are difficult words to hear. It’s not the part of the Bible I necessarily enjoy reading. Such passages create a picture of a harsh reality of toeing some narrow line of good behavior.
God here takes the form of a vindictive, ax-poised, macho God waiting with anticipation for one slight slip that will send us to the fire. Sort of like Dominator, the huge gladiator on the prime-time show American Gladiators. It’s the picture of God that perhaps most of us grew up with, were scared by and are now trying to heal from.

Or is it? I still don’t like these texts much. But it makes me pause and consider where I am in the story. It challenges me to consider areas of barrenness and growth in my own life.
And maybe that is a good thing. The longer I sit, listen and wait, the more I wonder if this Scripture isn’t saying something else. Perhaps this isn’t so much about works or good deeds, about toeing a narrow line so that our eternal salvation can be secured as it is about our life here and now.

When we listen to these texts, it’s about all the potential the tree in the garden has. It’s not dead. It doesn’t even say that it’s sick or diseased or failing in another way. It just wasn’t producing fruit. It wasn’t living fully what it was created to be. It was living a partial dream. It was holding onto stagnant branches because, perhaps, it always had. It was easy, comfortable. Or perhaps it didn’t want to let go for fear of disappointing someone else’s expectations or for fear of the unknown. Would something emerge in its place? Maybe the tree was desperately trying to produce fruit but didn’t realize that holding on to the other stuff was getting in the way of living its dream.

This makes me ask: What am I holding on to? What branches in my life do I cling to? Each of us clings to things that prevent us from living out our potential, from bearing fruit in all seasons of life, from living out God’s dreams for our lives?

Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural address names our need for releasing well:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that almost frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

We release, not only for our sake but for the sake of the world. We release to bear fruit abundantly, not only to feed ourselves but to feed others. And we feed others by letting them see us living fully out of the core of who we are—who God created us to be—and in turn invite others to do the same. For the gift of releasing and the hope of fruit in a season to come, thanks be to God.

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