Trimming the Tree
December 1998

“Trimming the Tree,” New Era, Dec. 1998, 35

Trimming the Tree

Snip! That’s for squirting me with the hose. Snip! That’s for waking up late. I was going to teach that tree a lesson.

My missionary companion and I weren’t getting along so well. Sister Reynolds* and I were as different as—well, just think of any two opposites and you’ll have a fair idea of how different we were. We were like day and night, hot and cold, lobster and lunchmeat.

For example, my idea of Christmas decorating was to set out a miniature Nativity scene. Her idea involved covering every available surface with either tinsel, Christmas lights, fake snow, or all of the above.

Sister Reynolds thought an essential P-day activity was to grab the garden hose and have a water fight or apply a fresh coat of polish to her nails. My essential P-day activity was to grab the garden hose and wash the car or polish my shoes.

Or do yard work.

That usually consisted of nothing more than firing up the mower and taking it for a few turns around the front lawn, which was only slightly bigger than your average hankie. But one day I decided I was going to prune the hibiscus tree.

Now I’m no gardener. If killing houseplants were a crime, I’d be on death row by now. But this tree—like my companion—had been a source of irritation to me for some time. It was just so big. Its towering branches extended a good foot or two above the roof, and its dark foliage was so thick and dense that it obscured the view from our front window. And worst of all, it blocked out the sunlight, making our front room appear dim and gloomy.

Something had to be done, and although I had never pruned a tree myself, I had read about it often enough in the scriptures. How hard could it be?

I found a pair of pruning shears in the garage and went to work. As I worked, I thought of how the Savior often used examples from nature in his teachings. I wondered if I could illustrate a gospel principle by pruning a tree. I thought of how sometimes being cut back helps us be what God intended us to be. I also thought how bad habits, selfishness, and pride are like overgrown branches that stop trees from having the strength to bring forth the “good fruit” of joy and service.

Feeling quite pleased with this little analogy, my thoughts turned to my fun-loving companion. Now there’s someone whose tree needs a little trimming, I thought in exasperation. With each snip of my pruning shears, I imagined some habit or shortcoming I would love to cut off my companion.

Wakes up late. Snip! Plays practical jokes. Snip!

Snip! Snip! Snip!

I guess I got a bit carried away. When I stood back to survey my work, leafy branches and hibiscus flowers littered the ground. And the tree looked a bit like a Marine haircut.

It will probably fill out in a few weeks, I convinced myself.

A couple of months passed, and all the while my companion and I worked hard to overcome our differences. When Sister Reynolds’s transfer came, we parted on good terms.

I probably would have forgotten all about the hibiscus episode except that I stayed in the area for another month. And another and still another.

As it turned out, I spent the last eight months of my mission there. I had plenty of time to watch that poor hibiscus tree slowly shrivel up and die.

Those eight months also gave me plenty of time to make a few other observations. I noticed how sad it is to have a dried-up stump in your yard where there used to be a vibrant display of beautiful, tropical flowers. I also began to realize just how hot a room can get without any foliage to block the sun’s scorching rays.

Lastly I realized just how foolish and proud I had been to ever prune that tree in the first place.

Gospel principles began occurring to me. I thought of how sometimes we get so busy criticizing others and thinking about how they should change that we can’t see what we really need to change is the way we’re looking at things. I needed to open my eyes to the good in others and begin appreciating their true worth and beauty. Of course I thought about my former companion and how wrong I had been to want to prune away her beautiful branches.

What I had thought was her impulsiveness was actually a lovely quality called spontaneity. And her “irreverence” was something most people recognize as light heartedness. She could enjoy herself in all situations.

Sister Reynolds’s personality, I figured out, suited her abilities perfectly. That’s why she could do the work. She was just like that hibiscus tree.

As I look back on this experience, one lesson stands out. Pruning is best left to gardeners.

  • Name has been changed.

Illustrated by Bryan Lee Shaw