When we bought our current house, the first thing we did was to plant a half-acre orchard with apple, plum, cherry, apricot, pear, and peach trees. We planned, plotted, and planted, dreaming of fresh juicy goodness at our fingertips and shelves stocked with endless bottles of fruit. In our inexperienced naivety, we thought only of the blessings of the harvest, not anticipating the trials of pests and problematic weather. We didn’t foresee the years of despair over a late or early freeze and the subsequent loss of a year’s worth of fruit, or the years of overwhelm from a bumper crop with its sticky floors, fruit flies, lack of sufficient jars, and fruit rotting faster than I could get it preserved. We also didn’t foresee the valuable lessons in work and family and responsibility that would come from our small field, and I certainly didn’t plan on the object lesson of a lifetime that would finally teach me something I desperately needed to learn.
I have three peach trees. This past summer these trees produced profusely and I was downright drooling in anticipation. I watched them and worried them, willing the weather to be kind and helpful. As the blossoms turned to small green balls, I was protective, and greedy. Now, I grew up around fruit trees and I know that I should thin the fruit. This means removing unripe fruit from crowded clusters, allowing remaining fruit room to grow. But I wanted every single peach hanging on those trees and just could not bring myself to pull a single one.
As summer progressed, each tree somehow had a different destiny. One tree, through freezing or the wind, naturally thinned itself. It offered fruit, but only single peaches well spaced on the tree. These peaches grew to be perfectly sized and flavored. The other 2 trees bore burdens of copious crop; one poor tree succumbed to the weight of the load and the branches broke cruelly, nearly destroying the tree. Devastated at the damage my greed had caused, I then tried to thin the peaches on the third tree. It helped lighten the heaviness and thus preserved branches, but at that point it was too late to affect the fruit much and what we harvested were very small peaches with little fleshy goodness.
As I compared the trees and their produce, I was struck by obvious parallels between the contributions of my peach trees and the contributions of my life: If the fruit I offer is to be the best, I must not try to produce more than I can shoulder and nourish. I must thin out those things that place demands upon me, even sometimes when their blossoms are beautiful and I want that particular fruit.
This personal parable reminded me of some profound expounding Brent L. Top did on the story of Mary and Martha in his book Living Waters. Of the many wonderful things he wrote on the subject, this particular paragraph hit home: “The Savior told Martha, ‘Thou art careful and troubled about many things.’ He was acknowledging her conscientiousness but also reminding her that her conscientiousness in some ways had become a weakness. The phrase ‘troubled about many things’ could also be interpreted as, ‘You are distracted. Your attention and efforts are divided, and as a result, all that you do is less effective.’ In our day, the Lord has commanded us to be ‘anxiously engaged in a good cause’ (D&C 58:27), but that doesn’t mean we have to be anxiously engaged in every good cause. Trying to do all things or be all things to all people all the time results in Martha-like frustration. I believe we must learn, like Martha, that being cumbered with over-involvement in too many good causes can actually divert us away from the things that matter most. Martha wasn’t sinning or being evil in any way. All of her efforts and attentions were drawn to doing good for someone else (in this particular case, the Savior). But instead of finding fulfillment and peace and joy in her labors, she was more frustrated and worn out than ever. She thinks the problem is Mary—for not helping out with all of the preparations—but the real problem is Martha herself—for being over-involved and distracted from that which mattered most.”
While it’s hard to thin peaches, it’s harder to thin out the many things in our lives asking for attention and energy. In fact, it can be positively painful. But it’s not as painful as cracking under too much weight. It’s not as painful as realizing that as “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20,) not only what type of fruit you produce, but the fruit’s value is revealed as well. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I have been quoted as saying, ‘Do the best that you can.’ I do wish to say that it be the very best.” Doing your very best doesn’t necessarily mean doing the most. Best alludes to quality, not quantity. The best peaches weren’t the loads of small ones with little flesh around the core, but the ones with lots of room to grow and develop.
In the thinning process, it’s not always easy to look at a cluster of peaches and know which ones should be sacrificed for the good of the tree and the fruit that will ripen. Likewise, it’s hard to know what to trim from our lives. Top continues, “Just as Martha was, we need to be stopped dead in our tracks once in a while and examine what we are doing and why we are doing it. Eternal priorities absolutely must guide our lives and actions and choices…” He asks, “How many things in your life—good, desirable, honorable, righteous things—are actually getting in the way of the ‘good part,’ an intimate relationship with God? As C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’”
Finally, we cannot discuss fruit without mentioning the most precious produce—our children. How horrifying would it be at harvest to find the fruit of our loins as under-nourished and under-developed due to either greed for personal yield or distraction and overwhelm. Neither is acceptable. Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy counseled Saints in general conference to unclutter their lives of diversionary encumbrances. “We need to examine all the ways we use our time, our work, our ambitions, our affiliations, and the habits that drive our actions. . . . A mother should never allow herself to become so involved with extras that she finds herself neglecting her divine role.” (“Unclutter Your Life,” Ensign, May 1992, 28.)
As this New Year begins, I hope we’ll all have the courage and conviction to perform the necessary thinning in our lives that we may cultivate the most excellent fruit possible.