For the longest time I thought about pruning in terms of a tree’s appearance. Is the tree lopsided? Does it look balanced and even? And although this is indeed a reason for pruning, I’ve since learned that pruning is also about improving the overall health and strength of the tree. And not just by removing diseased or damaged branches. There are times when taking out otherwise healthy branches and shoots — even if they aren’t ugly — is a wise thing to do for the tree’s long-term vitality.

Sometimes the issue isn’t simply disease or aesthetics. Rather, the issue may be that there are simply too many branches or shoots. Removing some of them allows the roots to provide more nourishment to those branches that remain. It can also open up more space for air and sunlight to come through. And the result is a stronger, healthier, and yes, more beautiful, tree. The goal isn’t just to cut out everything that is demonstrably bad. Much of it is simply deciding which branches to keep, and then eliminating the rest.


For me, pruning a tree is a clear illustration of how cutting out things that may not be bad, but aren’t best, can lead to long-term growth and flourishing. In our own lives, we may have a multitude of things we’re committed to, and each of them may be important to some degree. The question, though, is which of them are most important? Because in order to make room for them to truly flourish, there may be times where it’s necessary to prune back those things that are less important.

The goal isn’t just to focus on what needs to be removed. Rather, it’s about identifying what we want to keep. But identifying these branches in our lives is only the first step. We also must be willing to prune back those things that are less important. And this will require courage. It will require saying ‘no’ at times. It will mean disappointing people.

But in doing this, it’s important to remember that pruning is ultimately not about what we cut out, but what we keep. Saying no isn’t about the no, but about what it allows us to give our yes.