The Art of Ending: 3 Steps for Pruning Your Life

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. -Seneca

Dear Reader,

I don’t know why, but a letter just feels right. This one is a little more personal, just you and me.

So, ‘Tis the season for resolutions. Lose weight. Be productive. Get organized. Save money. One more addition on your life’s ‘To Do’ list in order to be better than the year(s) before.

A familiar quest for many of us.

One question though: How’s that goin’ for you?

Pretty good right now, I’m sure…..2017 is still fresh. Gyms are full. Healthy recipes clog facebook feeds. And let me guess, the pages in your day planner are crisp, and talking with random strangers to compare what foods you are NOT eating for 30 days seems exciting.

I’m not here to debate the worth of this familiar New Year drum beat. I totally get it. I made my resolutions, too. In fact, I think it is really important to regularly take stock of your life, in whatever way works for you, so that you can reset, refresh, and recalibrate.

But I do believe that most times we are so focused on the urgency of the beginnings, that we ignore the necessity for endings. Why? Because endings are hard.

What if, for every resolution, we make to start something we are equally as committed to ending, something that is no longer bringing us joy, or serving its purpose in our life?

Think about it.

Habits. Relationships. Jobs. Commitments.

We all have a finite amount of time and energy. And so, I ask you, given who you are today, right here, right now, are you truly spending your resources in the right places and in the right proportions? Or are you holding onto situations and relationships that are extraneous, broken, or lifeless?

Tough questions, I know.

Not too long ago, I read a very compelling book by Dr. Henry Cloud called Necessary Endings. As I was making my own resolutions for 2017, I decided to try out some of his thinking. In his writing, Dr. Cloud introduces the concept of pruning. He suggests that we approach our lives much like a skilled gardener would a rose bush. Apparently any gardener knows that in order to create and sustain the healthiest roses, pruning is essential. While my own thumb is far from green, I resonated with the simple connections.

Dr. Cloud eloquently extends this powerful life metaphor to include the three circumstances when pruning, or necessary ending is required. Allow me to share his concept.

When the bush produces more buds than it can sustain

Most healthy rosebushes produce too many buds. This leads to overgrowth and creates a drain on the plant’s resources. Ultimately, if left unchecked, most of the flowers will survive, but not thrive. The gardener must make the difficult decision to prune the good buds, in order to redirect the flow of nutrients to the best buds. This is not an easy task for a gardener that loves every rose, but it is necessary for the buds to bloom to their fullest potential.

Our lives are very similar to this rose bush. They are often filled with so many good things; so many opportunities, commitments, endeavors, and relationships that we are overwhelmed. Our resources are stretched, and nothing, or no one,  is getting our full attention. In most areas we are surviving, not thriving. What would happen if we were to prune back some of the good for sake of the best?

When the bush has sick branches that are not going to get well

It is inevitable that, at some point, there are branches on the rosebush that are sick, diseased, and unable to recover. Any good gardener will try their best to nurture these branches back to health. They will spend much time and effort trying to help salvage them, but realistically a gardener must, at times, make the difficult decision to remove the ailing branch because it is simply consuming too much energy or spreading its disease.

So, too, does this happen in our lives. We limp along with broken relationships, hang onto toxic habits, and linger in commitments that deplete us physically or emotionally. It feels as though all of our energy is being diverted to sustain parts of our life that are not meeting our hopes and expectations. Essentially, the season of possibility for these buds has passed. What would happen if we were to get out our shears, and extract the parts of our life that are no longer giving us the results they once did, or are never going to amount to anything no matter how much we try?

Dead branches that are taking up space

Finally, if an attentive gardener looks closely, many rosebushes have branches and buds that are already dead and are taking up valuable space for potential growth of the living. These lifeless portions are not always easy to see and can be easy to ignore. They wither and hide behind the beauty of the new. Their mere existence limits expansion and thwarts healthy blooms. It is a gardener’s obligation to remove these parts of the rosebush that are simply taking up space.

As in our lives, we are often burdened with situations that have run their course and no longer contribute to our success. Finding and removing what chokes our life can help us to breath deeper, spread wider, and grow higher than we ever thought possible. What would happen if we removed all the things and relationships in our lives that could never be revived?

Pruning Your Own Life

I don’t know you, but I want what is best for you. I believe completely that each person is designed for incredible beauty, potential, and abundance. Just as the rosebush, our lives need care, attention, and careful pruning to make way for growth. Call it life maintenance.

So, go ahead, make your decisions and resolutions. I certainly have. But do yourself a favor as part of this renewal process: try something different. As you look out over the landscape of your own crazy, beautiful life, think about your habits, relationships, jobs, and commitments. Now ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What is good but not best?
  • What is sick and not getting better?
  • What is long since dead?

Endings are hard. But they are necessary.

So, for you dear reader, I share this wish.

This year, may there be a bounty of roses that fill you with pride, gratitude, and adoration. But most importantly, during this season in your life, may you take the time to stop and smell each and every extraordinary one that you have chosen to nurture.

Aleasha, fellow rosebush pruner