I don’t want to be a Bradford pear tree. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re beautiful. They grow quickly, they flower in the spring, they’re just lovely. They sound perfect, don’t they? But there are consequences to growing too quickly. The house I lived in the longest growing up had one right off the deck when we moved in. It was lovely, and my mom hung her bird feeders from it, until one day there was a bad storm, and we came out to discover half of the tree was gone. It had just fallen right off. After a few years the whole tree had fallen apart piece by piece.
I’m facing a similar conundrum — not dropping limbs, but trying to be deeply rooted in a fast moving world. It’s my word for the year. Both because I have moved within the last six months and am trying to put down roots back in Kentucky again, and also from the prayer in Ephesians:
“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
My husband and I took a day long retreat for the new year, and I prayed about being rooted and listened, and what I heard was this. I desire to be rooted in love, in community, in the church I serve, but I am often just acting rushed. Rushing to love, to form community, rushing to feel at home — none of which works well when rushed. Rushed rooting produces Bradford pear trees, beautiful but fragile, tall but unable to withstand storms.
I believe some of this comes with the job description — I’m an itinerant pastor — we weren’t made to be redwoods, we need to be able to be replanted every 5-7 years and still grow and bear fruit. Some of it also just comes with my personality. I get excited so I move quickly. I can move quickly, so I do, and that part of me wins, but it doesn’t have to.
There’s a part of me that is slow moving though, but it’s a part I generally try to overcome. I move slowly with children, I eat really slowly, and I sing slowly. Dear goodness, I sing slowly. I learned “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” as a child and would sing it soo slowly that once my Mama informed me that the song was not a funeral dirge, and we weren’t singing to send Michael’s burning Viking funeral pyre to sea. And while that part doesn’t need to be repeated (my rendition was truly painful y’all), there’s something to be said for tapping into that part of me that moves more slowly. To sit with other adults and myself the way I can sit and be with children, to listen, to ask questions, to play the same song over and over because it brings us joy, to just be from time to time and let roots form on their own. To be rooted and grounded in love until I feel no need to rush.
And that’s the challenge for this year. To be rooted not rushed. To put down roots that are strong but can still be transplanted at some point. To move with energy, but not urgency. And as the prayer suggests, being rooted in love, in community, in church, in life, must ultimately come from the knowledge of God’s abundance. Because at the heart of rushing is scarcity — that if I don’t move fast enough I will miss an opportunity — an opportunity to feel at home, an opportunity for my church, and opportunity for my family. And that’s the fallacy of the Bradford pear tree — if we pick a tree where we have to wait, what if it doesn’t bloom while I’m here, what if it doesn’t give us shade when we need it? Can we rest, rooted in love, long enough to wait for roots?
Yes, in the abundance of God’s love, we can. Remembering that we are all children of God, I pray we encourage that slower-moving wonder this year — that we encourage and praise the parts of us that move more slowly, and hang out with children more frequently if we need to! Praise and encourage yourself for being rooted in small ways — planting a garden or a tree, hanging pictures, seeing a new place, inviting someone to coffee, learning the names of your neighbors. And trust that as we depend on God’s abundance, we are being rooted and grounded in love.