By Bethany Mathis
Originally Published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 4
A few weeks ago my four-year-old daughter came home from school and asked if we could plant a flower. She had learned that day about how plants grow and was beyond excited to watch one grow herself. We went to the store, and I found an extra-small pot with a couple of sunflower seeds included. So we brought it home, planted the seed, and began to wait. My daughter became frustrated when the seeds we had planted did not immediately grow before her eyes, and she became disinterested—until several days later when we could see a tiny sprout start to emerge from the dirt. After growing a few inches, it was time to transplant into a bigger pot. The roots had run out of room, and it needed space to grow.
What I didn’t expect through this ordinary process is that God met me while watching this tiny plant. He used a tiny sunflower sprout to show me areas where I needed to change and grow.
Something God showed me about myself is that I am scared of being deeply rooted. I’ve made friends, I’ve invested time and energy, but it’s always been easy for me to pick up and leave. It’s almost comforting to me to think of moving away and starting over. Staying still means someone might know me too well. Someone might see the ugly parts of my soul. Someone might notice my shortcomings and failures. They might see who I really am. I romanticize the idea of moving far away and meeting new people and reinventing myself. I want these perfect relationships and communities, and when it doesn’t look exactly the way I want, I tend to run and get disinterested. Just like my daughter did when she saw no growth in her sunflower.
Through the sunflower plant God taught me two important things.
Roots need time to grow.
Roots need space to grow.
It’s not going to be overnight that I feel deeply rooted anywhere. I can’t expect my relationships to be perfect; I can’t expect to feel instantly connected. You have to put time into a church or community before you start feeling those connections. Just like it took the effort of watering the plant to see results, so does seeing the fruit of relationships. It takes effort and time. If I disconnect and distance myself when I am not getting what I want from my relationships, I will never have roots anywhere. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not where God has me.
Roots need space. As soon as we transplanted the flower into a bigger pot it began to grow. No, this doesn’t mean move to a bigger church or a bigger group of friends. This means that if I want roots to grow, I have to give them space in my own life. I have to be willing to give up time to people. When I leave my bubble, things can get messy, and I don’t like messy. But if I’m not giving any space of time in my schedule to not only form relationships but invest consistently into them, they are sure to die. Roots need space.
My brother gave a sermon a while back on Ruth, and one thing has consistently pressed on my heart ever since. He was speaking of when Ruth picked her field in which to work, and that just happened to be Boaz’s field. He explained that it was God’s sovereignty that brought her there. She didn’t debate; she didn’t try and find the perfect field. Ruth picked her place to work, and she dug her heels in. Those were her people. That was her field. She worked hard and served hard, and it was through God’s mighty hand that she was used.
All through a tiny sunflower sprout, God has softly whispered to me that it’s time to grow some roots. Some deep roots. Ones that if I ever have to pull, it will be painful. Ones that will take time and space and effort to grow and maintain. I’m sure there might be an easier choice. However, it’s only when we grow deep roots that we have impact. It’s only when we have deep roots that we begin to be nourished through community and have the ability to truly nourish others.
It’s true that God may move us someday. He may send our family out of our small town to another place to do life and ministry. He could shift our hearts tomorrow or next year or ten years. However, that fact can’t stop us from living and committing and giving ourselves to where He has us planted now. It’s no mistake I am here, and I will not waste this moment to walk in obedience.
When I am tempted to jump ship, to pull up my plant out of the pot and move on, I remember Ruth. I remember her commitment to her people. I remember the work that God did through her faithfulness. I remember the bigger plan that He had in mind—the plan to send Jesus to rescue us. I remember these truths, I dig my heels in the dirt, I say “this is my field and these are my people,” and I let my roots grow a little deeper.