Succulents of Hope
By Bronwyn Lea
These past few months, I decided to try my hand at creating a succulent garden. "Oh, they're so easy to grow!" friends said, and I sighed. I have not found succulents easy.
My feeble attempts at re-potting healthy-looking plants were rewarded with the leaves plummeting off the plants within a week of my handling them, even as others just turned yellow and sort of shriveled. I was deeply discouraged: was I overwatering them, or under watering them? Were they getting too much sun or too little? I didn’t know how to fix it, but I suspected they were failing, and the sallow, slumped leaves seemed to confirm this. I looked at the pile of fallen leaves lying in the potting soil and grieved. I studied the rotting ones still attached and tried to WILL them back into health… only to be discouraged when yet another one fell the following day.
Of course, it was never just about the succulents. Those little plants seemed symbolic of so much going on. I was trying so hard to make distance learning work, and while I could *see* our kids weren’t flourishing, I wasn’t sure how to fix it. Except, with children (and work, and church, and the malaise of the world), the problems are a lot more complex than getting the wrong ratio of light and water.
But God recently surprised me with hope in the most unexpected places. After weeks of watching leaves droop, drop, and start to decay and wondering whether my plants were going to make it, I realized I have been looking in the wrong place. My eyes had been focused on the old leaves falling off, but I hadn’t looked to the tips of the plant, to see if any new buds were forming. And when I looked, there they were! My efforts at readjusting had not been the failures I’d thought.
Hope sometimes doesn’t look like the old thing recovering. Dying leaves don't un-yellow and re-green themselves. Hope, as it turns out, sometimes looks like a tiny new thing sprouting. And so, when a mentor showed me Isaiah 43:18-19, God immediately brought the succulents to mind:
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up! Do you not perceive it?
I was so focused on worrying about what was being lost, and whether it could be salvaged, I was NOT perceiving the new thing. But when I started to look for buds, I realized there were tiny new nodes all over the place. And earlier this week, I clapped my hands with joy when I noticed yet another surprising new place of growth: tiny green tendrils of growth shooting from the edges of the dead leaves that had fallen!
Jesus said the same thing, but I’d forgotten: unless a kernel of wheat (or a succulent leaf!) falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24).
I am looking at our children, at our community, at our church with a new set of eyes. Rather than focusing on the things which have drooped and dropped, I’m asking God to help me notice the new thing he’s doing. Because he is. He is always advancing his Kingdom. He is always nurturing his children. He is doing a new thing among us: inviting us to see buds of growth, and find places of new life.
What might he be sprouting in me? And in us? What new budding opportunities are there in how God is forming us in our walk with him? Where are there opportunities for evangelism and neighborliness there weren’t before? What new ways might there be to build community we never imagined? How might his plans to reach children, youth, students, neighbors, and our city be freshly reimagined? How will God keep his promise to build his church in this season?
We are invited to keep our eyes open together: He’s the God who brings growth, and he is doing a new thing.
Bronwyn Lea is the author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs, an editor for Propel Women ministries, and serves on the pastoral staff of her church. She lives in Northern California with her family and their struggling succulents. Connect online at her website, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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