The story that sticks with me every time I remember the word “pruning” is that scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Chronicles of Narnia, between Aslan, the Lion King, and Eustace, a cousin of the four Pevensie siblings and a rotten boy who became a dragon because of his inner greed and selfishness.
Of the seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia, next to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Voyage was the one that spoke most powerfully to me about grace and redemption.
In this scene, Eustace, having been turned a dragon, was invited by Aslan to the pool where he could bathe to ease the pain that was in his leg. He had to undress to get into the pool so he tried to peel off his dragon skin, only to discover that underneath were more layers of rough, scaly dragon skin. It didn’t seem to work and just caused him to hurt even more.
Aslan enters the picture and graciously, beautifully offers, “You will have to let me undress you.”
“I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – (with his paws?) – Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
I remember this now because of the hard lessons I have been put under these past couple of weeks. Pruning, disciplining, or in this case, peeling off dragon skin.
The part that hurt most for Eustace was when he tried to do the removing on his own. Even to us, it seems very natural that if there is a certain attitude, behavior, or anything we must address in ourselves, we think it is “up to us” and to our own efforts to change ourselves. Little wonder the proliferation of many self-help books, which are not bad in themselves, but they give the message that ultimately we are the ones in charge of changing our situation. And yet, addiction among many persists. The will to change –our desire and intention, are only one part of the process.
The second, (if not the first) and most important one, is the part of God. When one surrenders to Him and admits that he is helpless and cannot save himself, only then can change truly happen. Something inward has been won by the simple admission that, yes, we are unable to do it by ourselves.
Even the apostle Paul echoed this struggle between what the flesh and mind want, and what it eventually ends up doing.
Romans 7:15-25New King James Version (NKJV)
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I, too, tried to peel off my dragon skin on my own. The more that I did, the more that it hurt me. I wish I could change myself in one snap and be the better, refined version that I ought to be, but it seems this is not how God intended to change us. Like Eustace, He will do the undressing Himself. He will remove the scales, peel off the layers of negativity, and greed, and selfishness and anger that we hide in our hearts. We will come before him naked, having nothing, and in such vulnerability and brokenness, he shows grace. He makes us into a new person, with a new heart, not a recycled one pieced together. A new heart.
I am still very much a work in progress. On some days, the dragon scales seem to grow back and I find myself returning to the process of peeling, hurting, and eventually of surrendering. During these times, you feel tired and burdensome. Sometimes, you also feel hopeless. Today, I am very much inclined to just surrendering it to God. I realize I can be very tiresome for most. Even I also get tired of myself and of my mistakes and flaws. How anyone could choose to still love me, despite the nasty dragon scales, I can only conclude to be God’s amazing, incomprehensible grace.
This is the hope I hold on to. The nasty, dragon-skinned me has hope and God will see this work into completion, from glory to glory. (Philippians 1:6)