Why is it hard sometimes to do the messy work to allow for the growth of those around us?
I sit in my office. Craving distraction from the end of the semester grading pile, I glance to the side of the window. I know the plant there needs repotting and have known for quite some time. Two years maybe? Covid times feel like a blur; part of me feels frozen in time back in February of 2020. I guess it has just been easier to let the plant be and deal with the maintenance of fallen leaves and dried edges. I glance down at my students’ final business papers. I wonder about the opportunity cost of my inaction? The unseen struggles of cramped roots, pushing and tangling, stressed underneath the soil. These things we maybe don’t want to see but would if we would only lift it from its cramped pot, gift it with a new nourishing environment, and let it grow once again.
Hidden Growth in Plain Sight
I like to think my plant enjoys our home and feels the care and appreciation, but then again, I wonder why would it? Have I shown it that? These actions– the watering, the trimming, the gazing and wondering– have just become part of the everyday ordinary habitual routine, the visual white noise of our lives. Years pass, and we don’t even realize the growth unless we take a moment to reflect, or we are suddenly shocked by what we see.
It’s like my daughter’s pants– the ones that now rise above her ankles exposing her to winter’s biting cold. December’s growth followed November’s purchase; there she grew right before our eyes. Witnessed, yes, but unseen and unacknowledged until now, until the new growth becomes apparent to all. The thing is, she still likes those too-short unicorn and rainbow leggings. How reluctant we all are to give up the loved and familiar, even if we struggle in discomfort.
Of course, I witness this also with my middle schooler, her phone and sketch book placed next to Babydoll, all comforts of her growth process. For she needs a new pot too. We moved her out of her bedroom, the one right next to her sister’s. A new environment with room to grow, a place to make her own with her own style, pick out her own pictures, abandoning the three I lovingly picked out all those years ago as she grew inside of me and my dreams for her began to take root.
As a mom or teacher or family or friend, we often struggle to allow and face the growth of those around us. I know my middle schooler craves more freedom, but the size of the new pot remains a bit unclear. I know the houseplant in my office would not thrive outside, not in the winter of the North at least. The harsh elements, the cruel winds would soon take their toll. As one of many out in the wilderness, would my plant be as appreciated or valued or special? Here it is tucked in the cozy corner of my work space, a retreat from the hard laptop keys and electric blue glow of the screen that transforms and transmits the wonderings of a confused and tired and loving mama teacher heart, deep and real.
This plant, in whatever the pot it finds itself, has a role, a purpose. I have a responsibility to it. I wonder if God as our heavenly parent ever felt a moment of hesitation when God chose to give humans free will. For me as a parent, while I want my children to lead lives of love, joy, contribution, growth, and peace, I want them to know that for themselves. I don’t want them to view me as their jailer. Where does the fence become the prison? Where is the healthy line between structure and freedom, between boundary and binding?
Where does the fence become the prison? Where is the healthy line between structure and freedom, between boundary and binding?
Freedom and Flaws
God in omnipotence must have known all the ways we humans make our mistakes? Galatians 5:13 tells us that we “were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love.” God must have known that we as humans can be terrible at this–even those of us who try to do this or do this most of the time. We are flawed, and people get hurt through our flaws. My children sneak yet another bag of chips out of the pantry and find every last hiding place that we created for the chocolates. They fight and hoard. When I have enough of the treats, they resent mom for saying, “dates are nature’s candy!”
Candy and chips are one thing; but growth will continue to challenge the boundaries of the next pot I select. I try to channel my inner Doc Gibbs from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, him pondering to his wife on their child’s wedding day: “They’ll have a lot of trouble I suppose, but that’s none of our business. Everybody has a right to their own troubles.”
Potting, Not Preventing
So often we try to control, to prevent all the challenges and struggles and mistakes that we made from visiting our own children (or students or direct reports or colleagues or friends or family). Do they just resent us for it instead? Yes, boundaries must be established. The plant without any place to root would die. But we get to choose and select the size of the pot. It’s a hard decision; we may want to keep putting it off, avoiding and ignoring the tangled mess below the surface. Worried we will select the wrong one or just not like it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 reassures us that “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” God and nature allow for mistakes. As a teacher (and human), I’ve experienced the important growth that can often come only through our mistakes. Through the growth of creation, we experience its wonder and mystery and beauty, as God intended.
“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Mess or not, I’ve dealt with such before. Some I remember, and some have been covered with new good soil. This will not be the last repotting either. Heck, today this might not even be the right pot, but I can listen and learn and love and keep trying and trying yet again. I’ll clear off the kitchen counter, wrap my loving arms around the roots, provide a supportive nurturing environment for expansion, trust the growth process, and tend to the mess.