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 | By Alison Blanchet

Say No — and Grow!

A few months ago I wrote about how this is the year I’ve decided to keep plants alive. Instead of half-heartedly dropping the contents of my water (or coffee) into a pot of basil on the window sill and hoping it all works out, I actually learned how much and how frequently things like water, sunlight and fertilizer should be applied. To my surprise, my original little pots of rosemary and basil have not only survived, but they’ve thrived and I’ve added a couple tomato, parsley and sage plants to the container garden that’s growing on the back porch.

One of the things that was most surprising to learn was the importance of pruning. It seemed counter-intuitive, but as I learned all the gardening tricks the internet had to offer, I kept reading about the importance of trimming not just the branches that appeared to be dead, but also thriving plants, so that the new shoots could have room to sprout and get the light they needed.

While talking with a friend about the ways we spent our (limited) free time, she shared that she found her Bible study “life giving” and how she had prioritized this over other events. (Of course these were all “extras” — not obligations like Sunday Mass). I thought about how often I said “yes” to the first things that came up, without necessarily thinking about all the choices I had about how to spend my time.

Over the years there have been decisions I’ve made to “prune” the secular or negative influences in my life. One of my earliest memories of this is attending a retreat in high school and making a commitment to no longer read horoscopes. While it had been an idle habit that was probably more about stalling to avoid homework than attempting to know the future, I remember feeling conflicted about what this habit could lead to and that I needed to completely cut it out of my life. It took some discipline, but I haven’t scanned for the signs since.

I find pruning harder when there are many good choices to be made, but it’s just not possible to do it all. In the past, I’ve tried to do everything and end up feeling so rushed that I enjoy very little. Everyone finds meaning in different types of activities, ministries and devotions, but every so often it can be valuable to take a step back and ask if there are activities or commitments on the calendar that have ceased to be life-giving.

An example of how this looks in our family, in this season of life, is that we say “no” to attending most events that begin after 6 p.m. Our youngest kiddos are happiest when they are on their way to bed around 7, and no matter how enriching an evening activity is — even if it’s at Church — we have acknowledged that none of us will enjoy any of the evening if bedtime routines are altered. We know it probably won’t always be like this, but for now even the best sounding opportunities are pruned if they interfere with this critical need for routine at bedtime. Or we get a sitter.

In St. John’s Gospel, Christ tells us that he is the “true vine” and that his Father “is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (Jn 15:1-2). As the season of Easter concludes, it can be the perfect time to examine our lives and ask the Lord to show us what parts of our routine draw us closer to him, and what might need pruning. Sometimes we have to say “no” to allow room to grow in new ways.

Alison Blanchet lives in Panama City with her husband and three children. She works as a therapist for children and teens. Email her at