By Jayne Hugo Davis
“In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.” — Abba Antony
I love finding tiny volunteer maple saplings around my yard. They spring up between the bushes in the landscaping bed or behind the lattice that hides our trash can from view. Each find is a small treasure that I quickly scoop up and replant somewhere in the yard where it has room to grow.
My favorite is the maple tree along our front fence. It probably has been there for a dozen years or more. I’ve lost track. No more than eight or ten inches high when I planted it in the ground, it now towers a good 20 feet in the air. From the window over my kitchen sink I can see the vibrant green leaves in summer and the strong, outstretched branches in winter. The sight of it always makes me smile and the same thought runs through my mind — what a gift it is to be in this place long enough to watch it grow.
Some things you only get to see when you stick around awhile.
In The Wisdom of Stability, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove contends that one of the most important things we can do to grow spiritually is to stay put and pay attention, to recover “a rootedness that most of us sense we are missing in our hurry to keep up amid constant change.”
For years there was a revolving door of different families moving in and out of the house right next to ours. We thought maybe it was us. My attention to weeding is obviously lax enough to allow for the growth of small tree saplings, after all. But the reality is most folks today will have 10 different jobs before they turn 40 and move an average of 12 times over the course of their lifetime.
I would never have guessed that my husband and I would live in the same house for 18 years or the same city for 26, or that I would be in the same job for 15 years. My spirit can feel as restless as the culture we live in, always looking around the corner, always longing for something new. But over the years I have learned to receive rootedness as a gift.
When roots go deep they offer stability and make the tree strong, able to ride out storms. They provide nourishment and enable the tree to grow and bear fruit.
My friend Rebecca and I wanted our children to have that rootedness, that sense of place and belonging. The older ones were becoming teenagers and would soon be going their own way. So we started game night — a pot luck dinner and (forced) family fun. For the last 10 years we have gathered most Friday nights in each other’s homes. Other families have become part of the group and many guests have found a place at our table along the way, including many friends of our children. The community of game night has been an anchor in our lives. These relationships are a gift of God to me. They give me the strength to ride out the storms of life and they feed my soul. What a gift it is that I have been in this place long enough to watch it grow.
Some things you only get to experience when you stick around awhile.
It’s hard to stay put — in a job, in a relationship, in a community. It’s hard to stay put in a conversation sometimes! To invest ourselves where we are. Because eventually it gets challenging. People will disappoint us. Our own shortcomings will begin to show through. We’re distracted by other opportunities that promise more or better or that offer an escape from what is difficult where we are.
My friend Mike Queen would often quote one of his seminary professors, Dr. Bob Dale, who offered this powerful statement in class one day:
“Your best ministry will come after you have been in a place for at least seven years,” Dale said. “Because few ministers stay in one church that long, most of you will never know what your best really is.”
That statement is not just true for ministers.
“Staying is so important,” says writer Ragan Sutterfield, “because it forces us to face the real problems in our lives — the problems we can’t mask with new friends, a new job, a new house, or a new car. Staying shows us that what we need isn’t another church or a town where people ‘get us’ or a new adventure. What we need is to face ourselves and stay still long enough for God to change us.”
Certainly there are times when God calls us to go, when change is what is good and healthy and life giving. But if we’re honest, there have been many other times in our lives when we have discovered the painful truth of the words of one of the desert fathers:
“Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you.”
How will you live out the spiritual practice of putting down roots?
How will you stay still long enough for God to change you?
And what gift might you receive?