“Root bound,” my mother said, texting me a photo of her fig tree and its delicate, ever-entwining trunk. “I’ve replanted it twice in its life, but it will need to be put in a bigger pot again soon.” She was gifting me the tree, after years of care, and was being up front about where it was at.
“Hmm,” I mused, considering my own houseplant in the window by the bookshelf, a wide-spread, gregarious sort of verdure—the largest one I’ve ever kept alive. Ever. “I wonder if that’s what’s wrong with my plant.” Some of the leaves had mysteriously started browning, curling inward no matter how much sun or how much (or little) water I gave it.
Root bound: when the roots of a tree, plant, flower, or other type of greenery grow so deep that they start to run into the bottom of the pot.
“Have you tried using fertilizer?” my mom suggested.
I almost laughed and then almost cried a little because no, I’m a black thumb, and all the gardeners of the world are probably turning their heads toward my house in St. Paul to say Duh to me right now. Actually, they probably would take a more loving stance like my mom did when she said, “No, not a black thumb. You just haven’t learned yet.” I tend to think people will respond more harshly to me than they ever do. Isn’t that the truth with all vulnerability? We’re just people, we want to take care of each other if we can.
I like to think we all have our own versions of being root bound. When you’re feeling really stuck—work is weighing on you like a ton of bricks, you sense there’s more out there or you’re feeling empty, you’re burnt out or completely bored—whatever it is, it might be time for a new pot. Or it might be time to uproot completely and get planted in a dramatically different setting: outside.
Change is a good thing, but we strong, courageous humans often get trapped thinking we’re feeble and ill-equipped, so we stay in our old pots, roots jamming into the bottom and the sides, curling around each other and choking the life out of each day. “I like my pot,” we say. “It’s safe. It’s familiar. I’ve lived here before, so I know I can do it.” All the while, we’re dying a little inside, hardly aware of the ways we’re suffocating ourselves, clinging to fear and claiming comfort. Life lived abundantly isn’t always cozy or snug, free from hardship or uncertainty.
And then there’s fertilizer. We try to feed ourselves with different things: people, organization, style, beauty, stuff, acceptance. All those things can be good things, but they’re not the best, and when we try to find our identity in them, they become downright dangerous. Enter fertilizer, or spiritual sustenance. This is the part where you put on glasses after living without them for years and start noticing the individual blades of grass, the exquisite difference between the leaves on the trees. When you start interacting with Jesus on a regular basis—reading the Bible to understand who the heck everyone is talking about, try praying, get real with loved ones about sin in your life, the stuff you need help getting past—that’s when true growth begins. It’s like fertilizer to your soul, to your life. Half the time, when we quit entering into communion with God, we don’t even realize we’re slowly shriveling, browning into crispy dead leaves.
What a waste! This life is 100x more full when we cling to truths about how to live. The Bible’s not supposed to be a guidebook of rules that tell us Do this! Don’t do that! God penned Scripture as a way to care for our delicate hearts. He knows what will hurt us and hurt others in the end…isn’t that what sin is after all? Things our humanly selves err toward, because of our sinful nature, that ultimately end in painful conclusions for our own hearts or others’. It’s no wonder the payment for sin is death. It’s all in the same bucket.
But we don’t have to choose death each day. Jesus paid for all that when He died, so now we can choose life. We get to read through this treasure map of life, this guidebook on how to survive. It may take a little discipline—heaven knows repotting houseplants and buying fertilizer feel like drudgery to me, until I get my hiney over to the store and just do it. Then I like it. Then it feels peaceful to stick my hands deep in the cool soil.
So whatever it is. A repotting and replanting, or a withering from lack of spiritual food or fertilizer. Rest assured that it all takes a bit of discipline, but the reward is huge: LIFE. Lived abundantly. A life more full than your mind can actually grasp at right now. We don’t know how far we can grow until we’re given some space to expand, some sustenance to cling to instead of the fear that feels safe and familiar.
Once you taste it, you’ll understand, and you won’t want to turn back.
Photo via The trapeze swinger