As a little girl, I grew up on an orchard and vineyard and it holds quite a dreamy, picturesque image in my mind. Every year, time would come for harvest. Pickers from all over would come to our farm and carefully place bunches of shiny, red grapes into wooden crates, ready for market.
As if I was still sitting on a crate up in the packing shed, I remember the smell of dust mixed with sweat, and sipping cool water as we’d weigh each box to be shipped. Then, with pruning shears ready, we’d hold each bunch carefully in our hands and examine the fruit. Regardless of how delicious Muscat grapes are, there would always be one or two that were ruined. Some were detached from the vine, and shrivelled. Others would have the dreaded ‘mark of the crow’… a pecked hole from those little blighters. There was the occasional grape that was small and undeveloped. With a short and simple snip, those imperfections were gone and the bunch was made perfect for selling. I quite liked the packing shed!
So often we look for signs of perfection in a Christian’s life, only to find imperfection. Here’s the hard truth: in every single one of us, nestled amongst the good, is the occasional ‘bad grape’. Put simply, we read about it described as sin – which may scare us off from acknowledging it’s there. Sin is simply an imperfection in what is produced by our humanity. We all have those imperfections. But the best news ever is that sin has no power over us.
It may be presumed that the most powerful sin is secret sin – not because it’s a sin, but because it’s a secret. The moment I say, “This is something I struggle with”, it is like light streams into that area of my life and I begin to regain the upper hand. On the other hand, the sin that we don’t acknowledge is a tripping hazard – a blind spot. More so, (and just as bad!) is making a big deal of another person’s sin. Are we not all in the same boat?
I love how it’s explained in Matthew 7:5 in The Passion Translation:
…“First acknowledge your own ‘blind spots’ and deal with them, and then you’ll be capable of dealing with the ‘blind spot’ of your friend.”
For a while, I felt guilty for my less-than-perfect secret faults, my blind spots. Then I realised, one of the best ways I can help myself and others is by acknowledging the ‘plank of wood in my eye’, the downsides of my humanity, the dark wrestling of my soul. Not here, of course. Public airing of dirty laundry is taking it to an extreme. But amongst good friends and pastors, I’ve found confession is good for the spirit. Not for salvation, but for sanctification – that is, our humanity being made holy, as God is Holy.
I love the imagery back in the packing shed for pruning those bunches of grapes. The fruit is held by the farmers with such delicacy and care to protect the bountiful, good, juicy grapes surrounding the damaged fruit.
I say all this, to say that one of my most precious conversations lately was a raw conversation with a dear pastor-friend in our church. I say both pastor and friend because in the midst of their friendship, they slowly pruned fruit in my life I’d not realised was damaged.
In our church, pastoral care is like the shepherd loving the sheep, the gardener tending the vine, a friend loving a friend. My encouragement is this: allow the variety of incredible pastors in our church to hold carefully the bountiful, luscious value of your life; yet slowly and carefully trim back the hurt, immaturity and disconnectedness you may feel. It’s something we may all feel from time to time.
After all, we all have bad grapes. Not one of us excepted. So, how wonderful it is to be held in the hands of those who genuinely love us on behalf of the master Gardener!