“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
— Cynthia Occelli
Everywhere I look there are signs of spring. Facebook is filled with bright photos of flowers blooming with hashtags like #SpringHasSprung and #Grateful and #WinterIsOver. Our winter coats have been put away, Jackson lives in shorts and a sweatshirt, and Teddy refuses to wear socks. The magnolia tree outside our front window is bright pink, ants have overtaken my kitchen, and yesterday afternoon I wrote on the back deck while the boys played outside. Spring has, as the hashtags say, sprung.
Everything about this time of year – the sprouting leaves, the budding flowers, the warmer weather, the longer days, and even the word “spring” itself – seem to be calling me to action, beckoning with promises of newness and rejuvenation. Clean the closets. Empty the garage. Launch a new project. Start a new book. Go. Do. Move.
But, at the same time, something else – something deep down, under the cobwebs and hiding in the shadows – seems to be whispering: Watch. Listen. Be still.
The past month has been a bit unsettling and chaotic. Matt has been traveling for a work a lot. School recitals, new sports activities, and last-minute adventures have thwarted any semblance of a weekly routine. There have been some really tough days and some peaceful days, soft days and hard days, but throughout it all there has been an undercurrent of restlessness. Rumblings of possibility and anticipation have been tempered by a heaviness of unknown origin, like growth unrealized and hope unseen.
Yesterday morning at church, I taught in the Spirit Play room. After we read a story about flowers and “lit” the chalice (i.e., turned the electric candles on) and said our Ghandi Prayer, the other teacher and I helped a half dozen preschoolers and kindergarteners plant bulbs in clay pots. They decorated their pot with markers, filled it with dirt, and placed one tiny bulb inside. After adding a little more dirt and some water, we set the pots in neat rows by the window.
Can we take them home?, the kids wanted to know.
Not today, we answered. We’ll keep the plants here in the classroom for a little while. We’ll take care of them and water them, and each week we can see how much they have grown.
Certain that the bulbs would be tended and confident that they would eventually grow, the children were happy to wait and watch. They didn’t seem to mind the waiting and the watching and the stillness. They nodded and went to find a new project to work on before their favorite part of the class – snack time. They knew that they had done their part – the decorating and the planting – and they trusted that the adults would help them tend to their flowers. They didn’t need to monitor every slight indication of progress.
I, on the other hand, like to monitor every single measure of growth. I like to make lists and then cross things off the list, each checkmark a sign of progress. I like plans-of-action and progress reports. I like growth to be clearly marked, and hope to be lit up in flashing neon signs. I am a go-getter, a do-er, a mover. The watching and listening and stillness are much harder for me. Not to mention that fear likes to masquerade as watching and waiting, stillness covers up doubt and anxiety, and it is sometimes hard for me to tell the them apart.
But maybe this season doesn’t need to be about one or the other – going/doing/moving versus watching/waiting/stillness. Maybe it can be both at the same time. Maybe hope doesn’t show up in flashing neon signs, but in playing basketball with Jackson and coloring with Teddy and having lunch with a good friend. Maybe all my journaling and scribbling and note-taking aren’t wasted time, but root-building and bulb-tending.
I am learning – or trying to learn – to watch and listen and be still a little more often. I am learning to trust the growth that is still unseen, the hope that is softer and quieter. I am learning to have faith that patience is a noble pursuit, and life is unfolding as it should.
But at some point, I think we need to get tired of waiting and watching; the stillness gets old and maybe a little boring. At some point, we need do show up and do hard things. At some point, the seedling gets sick of waiting and tells fear to take a hike. At some point, we need to embrace the chaos and recognize the seemingly destructive nature of growth.
At some point, the sprout needs to be brave and bold, and crack through its shell and then the soil, so that it can feel the warmth of the sun.