One night, my husband told our kids a Chinese story at bedtime. It went something like this…

There was a man who lived near a bamboo forest. He liked to walk in the forest, and often cut down some of the bamboo to use for building and other useful purposes. There was one bamboo in the forest that was particularly tall and lovely, and he thought it would be perfect as a pipeline to carry water through. As he approached the bamboo with his knife, the bamboo indignantly said to him “please don't cut me down! That's going to hurt, and anyway I'm too tall and lovely to be cut down!” The man replied, “you are tall and lovely, and that will make you very useful! But you're no use to me unless I cut you down.” The bamboo very much wanted to be useful, but being cut down just seemed far too painful. The man came back the next day, and the next, waiting for the bamboo to give its consent. Finally the bamboo plucked up enough courage and said “Ok, cut me down!” It braced itself for the knife, and as the man cut away, it was indeed very painful. Finally the cutting was finished, and the bamboo breathed a sigh of relief. As he lay recovering from the painful experience, the man said to him, “now we need to cut off all your extra branches. You need to be nice and smooth.” “What?!” said the bamboo, “I thought we were finished! But if you must, go ahead and cut off my branches”. So again the man took his knife to the bamboo and began the painful process of cutting off the branches. It took some time, and the bamboo winced at each branch being removed. Finally the man removed the last branch, and the bamboo breathed a sigh of relief. “I'm sorry, bamboo”, the man said, “but there is still one more thing we need to do, and it will probably be the most painful of all”. The bamboo was upset, but he had learned that the pain was part of the process of becoming useful, so he said “ok, whatever you must do…” The man said “we must hollow you out. We must remove all the obstructions that will stop the water flowing.” As the man knocked out the obstructions one by one, the bamboo began to feel lighter and lighter. Even though it was painful, it also felt good in a way. Finally, the bamboo was hollow and ready to be used. As the man started to allow the water to flow through the bamboo, he could feel it, cool and refreshing. He saw the water going out to the fields to water the plants, and watched as they began to grow and produce food.

I have resisted that knife before. Have you? Who wants to willfully endure pain? 

In John 15, Jesus says “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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.” 
I have watched people prune lovely rose bushes right back to little sticks, and fruit trees with huge lovely branches cut right back… I thought, “why on earth did they do that? It looked lovely, and now it looks terrible!” And yet, the next year, the rose bush was full of lovely new blooms, far more than the year before. The fruit on the fruit tree was big and plump, and there was lots of it! 
I remember the realisation one night that I actually had to make the painful decision and say the words (with a genuine attitude), “you know, you're right…I'm sorry”. I felt the resistance, the desire to self-defend, to shift the blame, deflect… but I felt the pruner standing there quietly saying, “let me prune that away”. It felt like a knife cutting to my heart, like a skillful surgeon's knife taking out a tumour of pride. Ouch! And afterwards… I felt lighter. I felt freer. Perhaps, like that bamboo, I felt the life-giving water flowing through easier… 
How often we want to be that bamboo that stays in the forest. We're happy with how things are there, and we feel safe with our branches and foliage making us look good perhaps, or look flourishing. But as long as we stay there, we're not useful for the many things that need to be done… things that we could not imagine or plan ourselves. We have no purpose, other than for our own gain. But as we slowly allow the pruner to do the pruning, we find that we're much happier being useful than we ever were looking good.