A few years ago I started a garden. I’m largely self-taught, which means I find articles on Pinterest and watch YouTube videos and just try things. Sometimes I fail, like the year I got just one ear of sweet corn, and other times I’m so successful we can’t eat it all! Raspberries were one such success. I planted three tiny raspberry suckers about 18 months ago. Today my whole garden is being overtaken by berries, and my cupboard is FULL of raspberry jelly. But the raspberries have done more than take over my yard and fill my pantry; they also taught me a valuable lesson.

Raspberries have fruit twice a year – spring and fall. This year we have had so much autumn rain that the berries are big and plentiful. The nearly constant rain also means that I can’t get out to pick them often enough. One day recently there was a break in the rain, and I went outside to pick. Lifting the first branch, I was impressed by the huge quantity of fruit that was weighing it down. Wow, I thought to myself, these bushes are just laden with fruit!

I stopped dead in my tracks. Laden. It’s a word we don’t really use unless we’re quoting Matthew 11:28 (or, apparently, if we’re overrun with raspberries). “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (KJV). That day in the garden I looked up Matthew 11:28 on my Bible app. I also looked up “laden” in the dictionary, which means “weighted down with a load,” (dictionary.com).

So many times I’ve thought of that verse or prayed for God to unburden me, but what I really wanted was a tropical vacation, or at least a good night’s sleep, so I would have the strength to pick it all up again tomorrow. As a person, that’s my mental picture of unburdening. As a gardener, I know that unburdening my raspberry bushes means picking the fruit and pruning the dead branches – making my plant less so it can do more.

John 15:2 (NIV) says, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

When my life, my faith, or my ministry produce fruit, that isn’t just for my benefit. It’s meant to be picked. A raise is an opportunity to bless others. Increased patience improves the lives around me. A growing ministry is an opportunity to bring in new partners and mentor future leaders. Likewise, the dead branches in my life—the toxic relationships, busy work, and time wasters—need to be pruned. Just like my raspberries, I need to be less so I can be more.