Ben and I and our four kids are between houses. We sold our two-bedroom house over the summer and we’re looking for a larger house. Did I mention we move a lot? Anyway, in the mean time, we’re in an apartment, with a lot of our things packed away in boxes. We are squished, as I’m sure many of you are, in a smaller space than we wish for. We want room to have people over, to let the boys wrestle, to plant a flower garden. But for now, here we stay. It isn’t a bad place to be, but it’s awfully easy to pine for a house, for that next stage of life, when we’ll have more room to grow.
I love houseplants. I love how they grow where they don’t belong—a splash of green in a mini-world of artificial lighting, dry air and potting soil. I love how they are actually alive, even though they don’t have access to any bit of their natural home. They have to cope with very limited resources. They are totally at the mercy of the housekeeper. They remind me of growth. Of life. Of beauty.
These plants weren’t created to live in a pot inside my house. For that reason, they also remind me of being a transplant—something that doesn’t belong. It isn’t like these plants live in a greenhouse, an environment tailored to their every need. Houseplants don’t have it so easy. They have to adapt to their environment, and they live in our houses, a sometimes-hostile environment, purely for us to enjoy them.
I think a lot about in-between stages. I’ve noticed that I seem to go from anticipation to anticipation. Just when one difficult chapter draws to a close, I find myself shifting focus to another change that is just out of reach. For now, I’m waiting on our house search to end. But then I’ll probably start waiting for summer vacation to begin (well I hope it goes in that order anyway).
There was a day last week when I intended to write this article about in-between stages. I already had the topic in my mind, but I hadn’t sat down to write it out. Instead though, my husband and I went with a realtor to look at two houses for sale. Before those showings, I was pretty content to be living in an apartment. After all, it’s only temporary. But when we got home from looking at those two terrible houses, I cried. I thought, “If that’s what is available, we’ll be stuck in this apartment forever. Maybe I should just start installing built-in bookshelves.”
We’ve been asking God to provide the right house. Several of my friends are in the same stage of life right now. We’re scouring the mls, waiting more-or-less patiently on a new chapter of life to begin. There are very few houses on the market in town right now. So we sit around, waiting.
Have you ever seen a houseplant that needed a bigger pot? It just keeps putting out roots. It knows it is out of room, but it just keeps growing roots, looking for any inch of extra space or soil it can utilize. When a plant has spent too much time in a small container, the roots grow round and round the shape of the container, looking for an outlet. They fill the container so fully that when it is removed, you can still see the perfect shape of the container. This is called root-bound. You have to use a knife to slice through the roots and give them a chance to fall in a natural shape, so they aren’t all stuck to each other, and so they can dig down and find water and sustenance again.
Have you ever seen a houseplant that needed more light? What does it do? It just keeps growing toward the light. It shoots up, getting leggy and gangly. It turns a little yellow, perhaps, but it makes itself ugly in its attempts to get closer to the natural light source.
If we need more room to grow, or more light, and we are asking God for that, what do we do in the mean time? Do we just sit and wait for him to improve our living conditions? No. We keep growing. We ask God for room to grow, but in the mean time, we prove that we need the room. We use every inch of growing space, every teaspoon of soil and put it to work for growth. We keep giving. We keep growing towards the light.
There’s a lot in our lives to hope and wait for. A better job. A graduation. A PhD. A pay raise. A move. A house. A baby. An adoption. A diagnosis. A cure. But God hasn’t given us permission to grow dormant when we find that growing conditions aren’t optimal. We have to choose a life of spiritual growth and fruitfulness.
Knowing our stay in this apartment would be temporary, it would have been easy to treat it as a hotel. It would have been easy to excuse ourselves from practicing hospitality this year. After all, there just isn’t enough room. There aren’t enough chairs. The table is too small. The fridge isn’t big enough for all the food we need.
Right before Christmas, I knocked at my neighbor Dani’s door to return a borrowed item. She, too, has four small children in a small apartment. She, too, is anxiously waiting for the right house to go up for sale in our community. When the door opened, though, I was greeted by noise and laughter—a room stuffed full of people wearing ugly sweaters. She and her husband were hosting a Christmas party for our church’s college ministry. They weren’t putting that idea on hold until they had enough space. They were filling that apartment, growing God’s kingdom.
Think your apartment is too small? Make like Dani and prove it. God is paying attention.
Whatever you find yourself waiting on, keep on growing. If you think your conditions aren’t ideal for growth right now, you’re probably right. But God isn’t looking for greenhouse growth in our lives. He’s looking for houseplants that are bound and determined to survive and grow towards the light. When you look at your life and see the many ways that you don’t belong, remember this: we aren’t meant to belong here. There’s a reason God keeps us from putting down roots. As Christians, we’re called to be strangers, travelers, pilgrims. Houseplants.
Adapted from a testimony I gave at our church’s ministry to young moms, BloomingMoms.