Our brains do a curious thing. They make themselves stronger by destroying their own tissue. It is called synaptic pruning and it can happen in fits and starts but there are also major events that occur during childhood. In simplest terms the brain grows then cuts back that growth to manage it. During these times of pruning the brain and behavior are challenged as the brain adds on new thinking capacity and shuts down others while the brain is under construction. Think about how much a major building remodel at work or the addition of a room on your house has an impact on your life. For a temporary time, things don’t work in a normal way and when construction is done, you must adjust to something new.
Brain pruning gives us a whole new perspective on toddlers and teens. Their brains are undergoing a major remodel and new things are just around the corner. Living with the remodel, however, can be a challenge. We must remember that brain pruning is necessary for growth and health. If our brains did not prune we would be a mess of too many synaptic connections and no good pathway for learning to proceed. The brain seeks to be orderly and works more efficiently if there are familiar pathways to connect to what we use.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15: 1-2
The Bible does not talk about pruning synapses but it does use a different kind of pruning analogy. In vine pruning we are the branches that need to be cut back to allow for better growth. Plants such as vines and bushes that go unpruned do not yield well because there are too many competing branches and stems leaving little room for grapes or roses. The growth of these plants needs to be directed and managed.
One thing we know about brain pruning is that our brain becomes what we do. The things we spend the most time doing are the pathways that get strengthened. The things we spend little time doing are the synapses that get pruned. If children read, play music, garden, or compete in sports, for example, their brains will get better at these activities. If they spend huge amounts of time doing less than healthy things, their brains will get good at those activities, instead. Children need a good gardener during the pruning process.
This same advice holds true for adults. We need a benevolent gardener to guide the pruning process of our faith. It is not fun when we are being pruned. It can hurt when God is cutting out a bad habit, directing our growth in a new way, or snipping off the dead twig of the self-pity we want to cling to. It is not easy. It is frustrating. It is all about getting used to loss and adjusting to what is new. We can often react like toddlers in a fit of frustration, or like teenagers we can become defiant.
In spite of what we may say, we don’t want to grow out of our sin and misery.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15: 4-6
God’s word is our best faith pruning tool. Without God’s word we might grow in the wrong direction much like a child who does little else but play video games. Without abiding in God, by studying His word we will not bear fruit, plain and simple. Not only do we need God’s word in our lives, but we need a steady diet of it. We need it at church, at home, with friends, and in the early morning hours of quiet contemplation. We need to abide in God.
The blessing of God’s word is not only stronger pathways in our faith, but a renewed understanding of God’s grace in our life. We begin to see the world, see others around us, and see our life circumstances in a different way. We see God glorified in our life.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As The Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my live, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John: 8-11