Pruning, encouragement and hope

I’ve just returned from a wonderful festival I go to every year with my family called New Wine. For me it marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next. It means I can lay down all that I have been doing in the last year, good and bad, and enjoy a window of rest before I begin to focus on all the projects I might have in mind for next year. Nice!

I like agricultural analogies. So I think of my year in terms of seasons of the vine. I start my year – August – as a nobbly root. At first there’s no sign of activity at all. Then after a few weeks – early September – I begin to see the first shoots of activity, followed by small branches – autumn into winter – growing outwards in new directions. These are the work projects or areas for character development that tend to determine the course of my year. Eventually as the year goes on – winter into spring – the new branches start to produce fruit. I’ve learnt from experience that new plans or projects started half way through the year usually peter out, just like late growth on a vine. Pretty leaves but they leech energy from the fruitful branches. So I try to avoid starting anything completely new now that the year is so far gone. The fruitfulness of my year usually then becomes most apparent in the summer months. And after that it’s time to get pruned back to the nobbly root. My year starts all over again.

Remember that this is an analogy and not a rigid doctrine. But I’ve lived with this rough template for years and it works for me.

So now that it’s August, I’m being pruned! But even if it’s a time for doing not very much, it’s also a great time for thinking about the year ahead. That means thinking about the future. Whether I’ve had a good year or bad – in work, family, marriage, friendships, health, well-being – my pruning season is a time of hope for what lies ahead. And nothing gives me more hope than to receive encouragement.

Three things happened to me last week that reminded me of the importance of encouragement in work and, of course, in marriage and family life.

  • The first was a conversation I had with a wonderful couple who run family and parenting courses and have helped strengthen many families as a result. I don’t know them terribly well. But their work is fantastic. So I went to meet them briefly in order to encourage them and tell them about our new Key Facts pages at Marriage Foundation. I hardly had time to say hello before they told me how good it was to see me and how they appreciated the work I was doing. They asked how my post-natal relationship programme for new parents, Let’s Stick Together was going, now run by the charity Care for the Family. We only chatted for a few minutes. But instead of me encouraging them, I found myself blown away by the encouragement they gave me.
  • A second occasion was another conversation, this time with a friend who is also involved with the work of supporting marriage in the UK. A few weeks ago, I stuck my neck out on a particular issue. I am uncomfortable with criticising what other organisations do but on this occasion I thought it was justified. My friend’s first comment was to congratulate me on what I said and encouraged me to keep going. Once again I found myself going away hugely affirmed and encouraged.
  • The third occasion was a text from my wife Kate! Kate is not a big fan of camping and she only came to the festival for the first part of the week. So I had the pleasure of looking after my kids on my own for most of the week, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Later in the week, I got a text from Kate saying “Love you sweet Harry xx”. That’s all. I felt really loved.

Many people, like me, will view the return to work in September as the beginning of their new year. So as we enjoy the last few weeks of summer holidays, may I encourage all of you to pass on your own encouragement to your work colleagues, your friends, your children, your loved ones, your spouse. Tell them how valued they are, how much you appreciate them.

Marriage is especially tied in with the promise of a future together. And nothing makes that future seem more hopeful than a good dose of encouragement!

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