Where's the Fruit?

“‘…I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’” – Luke 13:7

How do you decide who gets your time? As I’ve gotten older and my life has gotten busier and more complicated, as I’ve gotten more clear on who I am and what I want, and as friends and family move to different cities and I navigate the dating scene, I’ve learned that I need to be intentional about who I give my time to. How do I decide who to visit, whose wedding to attend, who to spend time with, who to call, who to date?

It’s easier to see results from decisions that don’t involve people. Is my diet working? Is my fitness routine delivering the results I want? Is my business plan leading to better profits? We can look at our weight or our muscles or our bottom line to answer these questions. But what about relationships? The benefits of a relationship are often internal and difficult to measure. So how do we know if our relationships are working for us? In one of his stories, Jesus uses a simple gardening metaphor that I find helpful.

In the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-8, Jesus tells the story of a vineyard owner who plants a fig tree hoping it will grow tasty fruits. But year after year the man visits the tree and finds no figs on it. Frustrated, the man tells the gardener to cut it down. The gardener asks for more time to nurture the fig tree saying, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” That’s the end of the story. Does the fig tree respond to the nurturing of the gardener and start to bear fruit? Or does it remain barren and unresponsive? We don’t know. But we do know that if it doesn’t bear fruit in the next year, the vineyard owner is prepared to cut it down.

I like this herbaceous metaphor for relationships because instead of a nebulous measure like “success,” you can ask are we/am I growing or not? As an example, I offer another plant metaphor. In Rob Bell’s book Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality, Bell tells the story of a friend who was engaged to a guy that her friends didn’t like. One of them finally decided to say something to her about it. He told her, “When a woman is loved well, she opens like a flower.” Bell explains that this one sentence was the wake-up call the woman needed to break off the engagement. By external measures (a ring, wedding plans, etc.) it seemed like this woman’s relationship was successful. But when forced to check her own level of growth and safety in the relationship she found it lacking and made a big decision to end it.

I love the image of the woman blossoming like a flower when she’s well-loved. I think we’re all like that. Think of what it’s like to reunite with old friends who know you better than anyone or to have a deep conversation with someone you really trust. You feel safe enough to be your best, true self and you feel vulnerable enough to reveal your worst self – struggles, worries, warts and all. Isn’t that the type of connection we’re all seeking?

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Sustenance and strength. In other words, does this connection feed you?

Even though the metaphor of relationships like fruit trees is simple to grasp, it isn’t easy to implement because relationships are so emotional. Some of my most painful experiences have involved cutting out or being cut out of friendships or relationships. But another thing this parable teaches us is that if we’re not growing, we may as well be dead. The fig tree looked alive, but it wasn’t growing, it wasn’t producing fruit, it wasn’t blessing others. “Why should it use up the ground?” the vineyard owner asks. Cutting out stagnant relationships makes space for fruitful relationships to take root.

What about you? Is there a relationship that needs examining in your life? Is there someone who served you in the past but today is more soul-sucking than life-giving? If you’re exploring a new relationship, are there buds of promise or do you find yourself tangled in thorns? Are you doing your part to nurture your connections and create a safe space for loved ones to blossom fully around you? If a relationship isn’t bearing fruit, what next step do you need to take to cut it out of your life?

I would love to hear your responses in the comment section below. And, as always, thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, I would be so grateful if you would subscribe to my blog and forward to a friend. 

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