Two years ago I lost one of the most important men in my life – my grandpa. The man who gave me the name “Sheffy” and who taught me how to shoot a gun inside of his old Kentucky barn. The same man who two days later implemented a “Sheffy safety goggle gun rule,” after I took my BB-gun and shot a metal pan a couple meters away from me. The bullet ricocheted off the pan and hit me right in between the eyes. The scar and memory are still evident.
We weren’t able to return to the States for his funeral. Being a continent apart from family in times like that are painful. But our f
riends family here in Tanzania showed up. They came to pray with us, they brought food, our favorite coffee, and flowers. One of my closest friends brought me a sign that said “bloom where you are planted.” She told my sister and I to choose a tree that she would plant in our garden, in order to honor our grandfather. It was touching.
I put the sign in my kitchen. Every time I passed by it, I would pause and feel two very conflicting emotions. I felt gratitude for the life of my grandpa and for the love of my friend who gave me the sign. I also felt irrationally and relentlessly annoyed. If you know “home Steph,” then you know that you will almost always find me in the kitchen surrounded by a large crowd as we cook, bake, laugh, drink too much coffee and
spend most of our time having dance parties to recent afropop hits. Our kitchen is usually the happiest and most exciting place in our home…and that sign was completely ruining my entire existence the kitchen vibe.
I couldn’t figure out why I was having such an adverse reaction to the sign. I left it up out of sheer obligation, but I grew more and more weary of its message. One day I even stopped and whispered “no” to it. Yes. I talk to, and sometimes argue with, inanimate objects. So do you. The world keeps spinning.
A few weeks went by and I was asked to record a video for a Mother’s Day event with the theme of…you guessed it, “bloom where you are planted.” I
cringed graciously accepted. But as my video message to the ladies turned darker and darker, I started to realize why the sign, more importantly the phrase “bloom where you are planted”, was getting to me…
Reason number 1, and admittedly the least important: I’m tired of signs bossing me around.
It’s been a while since I have been back in the United States, but the last time I was there I was unremittingly harassed and bantered by all y’alls merchandise. I couldn’t walk into a Target or TJ Maxx without a mug, or a sweatshirt, a journal, or piece of decoration screaming commands at me. Why are we all being bullied into:
Being “boss mom”
or“loving the mess”
to “lust after wander” or “say yes to new adventures”
“to kill it/slay it/do it like a mother”
…and…yep, even to “bloom where we are planted?”
Enough, Target. Just stop with the tyrannical merchandise. I would like my mug to be quiet in the morning, not lecture me. I don’t want to be a boss babe, okay? Regular old Steph is just fine with me. And I prefer the mundane over the “hustle”, but thanks anyway Journal 2023.
Second reason: Plants aren’t out there blooming always and forever.
I’m in a heavy season. I’m feeling quite burned out, actually. Maybe it’s my own sin of discontentment, maybe it’s the work I do with marginalized women, or the trauma that weighs on me as a counselor, but life feels heavy. Even in the beautiful and the good, there is the realization that grief and suffering live around the corner. I think that’s what the author of Ecclesiastes 3 meant when he said that there is a season for everything. There’s a time to laugh and a time to weep. There is a time to plant and a time pluck up what is planted. We aren’t promised, nor are we expected to bloom all the time.
We are however, promised the living water. Jesus, our living water, nourishes us through all seasons. He will produce fruit (eventually), sustaining us in the drought (Jer 17:5-8).
Reason 3: We don’t have to force the bloom if we are in a season of pruning.
Sometimes our Lord sees fit to take us through such heavy trials, that the last thing we are thinking about is blooming. We are surviving by his endless and sustaining grace, but we are being pruned and it hurts. “Blooming” gives the idea that we have to “be okay” all the time.
I think about new missionaries coming to a new home, where their roots have been so damaged that they are barely hanging onto their faith. I think about those lonely times with no one speaking your language and no one even knowing your name. You aren’t blooming then. You are an uprooted and slightly broken plant – or even a seedling of sorts. It’s humbling and painful. Forcing yourself to even pretend to bloom is missing what God is teaching you through those humble beginnings when you’re in a season of drought.
I think about people who are in a home that is familiar, yet somehow they feel like a foreigner. They feel like they are a searching for a home, somewhere for their roots to find nourishment, but they seem to be wilting faster than they are flourishing.
You may see others around you who are blooming and think that you must get there now. But there are no shortcuts in missions – no real shortcuts in life. There are only painfully slow steps of learning, humbling ourselves, sometimes making fools out of ourselves, and feeling way more “monstery” than “bloomy.” We must trust in the those times of being uprooted (or feeling like a baby seedling) that God is doing his work and doesn’t need you to look like a blooming rose in order to get his will accomplished. Relax – hang tight 😉 and be the seedling.
Reason 4: We should trust God if it is someone else’s season to bloom, not ours.
Sadly, I see this all the time. People criticize and pick one another’s lives and work and ministries apart, because they are comparing someone else’s “flourishing” with their drought (or possibly worse: someone else’s drought with their flourishing). When we see someone else’s “bloom” while we are feeling choked out by the weeds, we are tempted to compare, judge, and demean one another’s methodology. We make observations like how those blooms “are probably not sustainable, real, reproducing , or contextualized enough.”
If you are not blooming in this particular season – consider that this season is much more about the Kingdom than your own personal beauty and performance. Rejoice even when another person is blooming differently or more robustly than you are currently.
Reason 5:There is a season to bloom and also a season to…be in the valley.
Psalm 23 says “Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…” So much of our suffering and burnout is caused by us trying to avoid the valley instead of walking through it in faith. We want to stay on that mountain top, basking in the sunshine. But when God sees fit to take us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death we kick and scream and throw a spiritual temper tantrum rather than trust in his comfort, his presence and his purpose in the Valley. He will never leave us. We are being sustained and held in that Valley too (even when we don’t always feel it) and the fruit will come. It comes in his time and in his way.
Lastly, kill the “best life now” faux bloom.
One of the more harmful messages that people receive in our culture is that we are meant to “live our best life” all the time. Another theme that I hear echoing in the counseling room is people assuming that everyone else is living this illusive level 10 “best life” of happiness and contentment and they are somehow missing out on the good everyone else is living. They just have to find the right tools, the best techniques and top therapists to get them into that thrilling level of euphoric life that everyone else is living. Here’s a dose of unpopular reality: there’s no perfect level 10 in this life. No relationship is a 10 all the time. No day goes by without the sting of reality that the world, and the people in it, disappoint us – we disappoint ourselves.
If you are living right in the middle of a drought (Jer 17:5-8) then maybe you are not meant to be thinking positively, or hustling, or forcing any kind of blooming behavior. Perhaps, in God’s grace, he is reminding you that he works through loss and failure to protect you from giving your allegiance to things that will never satisfy. People fail you. We fail ourselves and others. Grass withers. Flowers fade. Relationships diminish and hurt us deeply. We grow tired and weary. God’s grace reminds us in these moments that nothing here on earth can satisfy our need for him. He alone gives life – life eternal. The lack of blooming may be his greatest gift of grace in your life.
One of my favorite views in the world is right outside of my kitchen window. It includes a giant cactus that blooms enormous beautiful flowers only at night. When the sun comes up, the flowers are hidden again. The flowers on this desert cactus are pollinated only through darkness. Maybe the darkness you are currently facing is where God is choosing to show you more of himself. So when you find yourself in the drought or in the darkness, think less on the external blooming that can be seen. Instead look to the things that are eternal, that can’t be seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). The darkness and the drought point us to our greatest need – the grace of God.
His grace shows us the emptiness of self-dependency. This beautiful grace combats the message that we have to try harder, do more, bloom brighter, hustle bigger and push harder. His grace is what opens our eyes to see our inability to bloom on our own – our inability to meet our own needs, in our own ways, using our own resources. His grace rescues us from the dry wasteland filled with the crushing weight of striving and self-promotion and into streams of living water (John 4:14).
5 Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,[a]
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Grace and peace,