I am growing tomatoes this year. Or attempting, in my own amateurish way. I have had mediocre results for the past two years, and true to my stubborn nature, I’m trying again. 🙂

One thing (possibly the only thing) I’ve learned about tomatoes is that they require vigorous pruning. Otherwise, they shoot leafy branches in every direction, and though full and luxurious-looking, they don’t give up much by way of edibles.

(My 3-year-old would disagree; he thinks that since we eat the leaves of our herbs, he can munch on all the foliage in the yard. I’ve caught him grazing several times.)

Many a day last summer found me hacking away at my little ‘mater plants, leaving stark, wounded stalks behind. But we got a lot more tomatoes out of them!

Once again, nature reminds us of a spiritual truth: like a tomato plant, we all need a little ‘pruning.’

What do I mean? Well, when I am making a fool of myself, I’m counting on you, dear friend, to give me a kind but jarring smack-in-the-face to wake me up.

This we should expect of our friends, and this we should also commit to those we love.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Prov 27:6a)

What would the world be like without mirrors? What would we know of ourselves?

We’d likely dress for comfort, and not to impress. My hair would be sloppily blobbed on the top of my head—always—and secured with a scrunchy. The term “fashion faux pas” would not exist, though it would probably apply more than ever.

We need mirrors. And when we don’t have a full-length mirror to carry around with us, we need true friends. Loyal. Kind, but honest. Unafraid to oppose you for your own sake.

It is the loving parent who says, “you’re not going out in that,” or, “you’ve really messed up here. You need to fix it.” But why leave this hefty job to parents alone? It’s obvious we still need some pruning at this point: do we all don the Underpants of Profound Wisdom, or receive a full varnish of Dr. Miracle’s Mistake-Repellent Spray-Tan, the second we turn 18? Uh, I know I didn’t.

If I’m being honest, the majority of serious mistakes I’ve made have happened since I left home, while my parents weren’t close by to knock me back into the middle of the ‘straight and narrow’…and frankly, the kind but searing words of a friend have been my saving grace. Literally.

“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” Psalm 141:5, ESV

A faithful friend loves you enough to let you know you’ve tucked your skirt into your pantyhose before you leave the bathroom, or that your breath rivals the stench from the monkey house at the zoo (what IS IT about that place? Is it the …er, mud-flinging that produces the wretched fog? Perhaps there’s a lesson in that, too…). Or that you’re really going to mess up your life if you do _____________. (Hint: a scripture or two would be helpful for backup; just don’t prepare a full-length sermon. Perhaps a sermonette, or exhortation. Poetry or a vigorous round of Charades would work nicely, too. Scripturally sound, of course.)

A true friend will risk offending you for the sake of a heartfelt warning.

Just between you and me, I will admit (don’t tell anyone) that I actually crave a little honest rebuke once in a while. Not the kind where we’re yelling at the top of our lungs and the truth comes out with crushing, brute force… but sometimes I yearn for someone to gently remind me how obvious my flaws are, and that I need a little self-control/Binaca.

To me, even negative feedback is better than none at all. And honest criticism is far better than insincere compliments slathered thickly on the ego.

“…deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Prov 27:6b)

So, get out those pruning shears and be a friend today. 🙂

–what’s that? “Not my job,” you say? Hmm.. Are we the Body of Christ? (Yes.) Paul spoke in Galatians 2:11 of his uncomfortable, yet necessary job of confronting Peter, his fellow apostle, for hypocrisy. Peter seems to have taken the rebuke well, since in his own epistle, he calls Paul “our beloved brother.” It may not be the initial example that comes to mind when one asks to be used of God…yet it is just as valid and needful as other, more glorious operations of the Body.

Oh, and one last word: if it’s not spoken with humility and kindness, it doesn’t count. (Many thanks to you, dear friends. You know who you are.)

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