With few exceptions, our house has always been a place plants go to die. I’ve tried to buy varieties that thrive on neglect to improve the odds, but I usually forget about them until I spy one that looks especially droopy. And then I water them all at once. As it turns out, that’s not a good plan. You can’t care for plants in a one-size-fits-all fashion.
When we moved in December 2020, I wanted to enliven our new home with more greenery, especially since we had a sunroom for the first time. I visited nurseries and soon became obsessed with adding plants to every room. Of course, my lovely new plants needed cute planters too.
Soon, I realized that if I wanted them to retain their fresh-from-the-nursery look (and not waste the investment I’d made), I needed to learn how to care for each plant individually. A succulent that is native to the desert and an African violet that is native to the rain forest have different needs.
My oldest daughter recommended an app which I now use to catalog our plants and their locations within our home. After entering each room and its lighting conditions, it tells me which plants are suitable to grow where and how often to water them. The long, draping ivy in my sunroom needs to be watered multiple times a week, but the fiddle leaf fig in my kitchen needs it much less often. I never realized indoor plants have different watering requirements at different times of year. Although I wrote two books about essential oils, which are produced from plants, it seems I could write another book on all the things I didn’t know about growing them.
Month after month, however, as my plants have continued to thrive, my confidence has grown along with them. I don’t own one of those cute Plant Mom tees, but if I did, I would wear it proudly instead of ironically. I really do try to mother my plants well.
That’s why I was alarmed the day one of my favorites, a majestic split leaf philodendron, appeared to go on the decline.
This plant, also known as a hope plant, has frilly, ruffle-shaped leaves that spread high and wide open toward the sky — or in this case, the ceiling. But one day I noticed one long stalk had abandoned its perky posture and began to droop toward the floor, while its large, green leaf curled up and turned yellow.
What had I done wrong? The rest of the plant looked so healthy!
After a talk with my daughter and a Google search, I learned another fascinating fact about plants: Sometimes they shed older leaves in order to direct their energy toward new growth. Sure enough, when I looked closer, I noticed fresh stalks sprouting up right in front of me. I thought my plant was dying, but it was actually redirecting its energy, prioritizing the new over the old.
Just like my plant, my life looks different now than it did not so long ago. We moved to a new area and a new neighborhood. I’ve made new friends but seldom see many who’ve been a part of my life for years. I retired after over a decade of tutoring in a one-day-per-week program.
I didn’t realize how weary I’d grown from an extended period of labor — years of working on book deadlines and lesson plans, months of preparing our old house to sell, the physical and emotional toll of moving — until I slowed down and slid into an unplanned season of rest. The changes of the past year reset my rhythms more than a list of new year’s resolutions.
By nature, I’m work driven, and I’ve struggled with taking downtime. This slower season of life has felt so different I’ve wondered if I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’ve felt guilty about the things I’m not doing (like work) and also the things I am doing (like staying up late with a book I can’t put down or bingeing Spider-Man movies).
Pruning a tree, plant, or vine can increase its fruitfulness and the Bible uses the same analogy for periods of spiritual growth:
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
John 15:2 (NASB)
The verse begins with barrenness, followed by productivity, and finally abundance. Periods of seeming barrenness — metaphorically pulling the weeds and tilling the soil — can help to prepare us for the harvest to come. Just as my plant redirected its energy from old to new growth, the Lord often prunes us before periods of fruitfulness.
As things in my life become pruned and as I learn to rest in the barrenness, I trust that this is a season that’s good and necessary, from which I will one day reap a harvest of fruitfulness in the seasons to come.