I do not have a green thumb. I really wish I did. I am in love with the idea of gardening, but seem to lack the knack. Actually, I think I fear gardening. The perfectionist in me often resists the notion entirely because I fear that (from experience with a couple of house plants) it won’t work. A couple of years ago my friend, Betsy, insisted upon giving me some hosta cuttings from her yard. I tried to politely refuse, but she dropped off a bucket of earthy roots with attached leaves anyway and told me to just put them in the ground.
The bucket sat near our front door for probably a few too many days while my guilt over their impending death grew. I finally gave in one day and dug out a row in the grass of our front yard and plant the cuttings there out of guilt mixed with a lot of doubt and grumbling.
Guess what happened? They grew! (Not surprising to you green-thumb people, I’m sure.) They’ve even grown larger and fuller each spring since I planted them. I’m pretty sure this one success of mine does not mean you’ll want to hire me as your next landscaper, but still. I planted something – something cut out of a friend’s yard, no less, and it grew!
(Actually, I have had one or two successful vegetable gardens, but I’m like 2 for 25. Not good odds.)
And while plants are often used to illustrate people and their growth, the truth is, that people don’t always thrive and grow where they’ve been placed. (I suppose some plants don’t either, but it’s never due to own their choices.) It’s why we have cliches like “bloom where you are planted” to encourage each other to thrive and make the best of any given situation.
I did some research on the origin of the phrase. It’s earliest mention seems to be from the 16th century…
The Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) said this: “Truly charity has no limit; for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by His Spirit dwelling in each one of us, calling us to a life of devotion and inviting us to bloom in the garden where He has planted and directing us to radiate the beauty and spread the fragrance of His Providence.”
The phrase “bloom where you are planted” cannot be found in the Bible, but the concept can be found all over the scriptures. When I was first asked to speak at a womens’ breakfast with this theme, my thoughts immediately went to Psalm 37. It’s a Psalm I have clung to often – especially these verses written by an older King David.
Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and He will do it.
And then I started thinking about specific times that God had asked people to “dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” or in other words “bloom where they were planted.” (Also where I got the “dwell” in this blog’s new name.)
The book of Jeremiah came to mind. Especially the 29th chapter. You are probably familiar with Jeremiah chapter 29 because of its often-quoted verse 11.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I have received a couple of birth announcements, wedding invitations, and graduation cards with that verse on it.
And while it is a verse about God’s plans and the coming circumstances of His people, the context really has nothing to do with celebrations or congratulations or even God’s plans to prosper His children with good jobs or safety or successful futures. Quite the opposite. (Though I think we can still use it to give evidence of God’s involvement in our lives and His good intentions toward us.)
The context of Jeremiah 29:11 is exile. In this chapter, God’s people have been recently conquered by an enemy nation and forced from their homes. It is a consequence of their disobedience, of rebellion, and of idol worship.
God had been very patient with them for about 1000 years, having given many, many opportunities for them to turn from idol worship and disobedience and back to Him. Not only have they refused, they have only escalated in their rebellion and evil deeds. (Just read about King Manasseh in 2 Kings 21. Yikes!) God has now has appointed some very extreme consequences for His beloved children: destruction of their city, their homes, the temple, and banishment from their homeland.
After 1000 years of His people leaving Him for other Gods, we might expect an “I told you so” or “I am so done with you” from God. Something reminiscent of Keith Urban’s 2002 hit:
Take your records, take your freedom
Take your memories, I don’t need ’em
Take your space and take your reasons
But you’ll think of me.
And take your cap and leave my sweater
‘Cause we have nothing left to weather
In fact I’ll feel a whole lot better
But you’ll think of me, you’ll think of me.
(We just got a Spotify family plan, and now I can listen to as much Keith Urban, George Strait, and Faith Hill/Tim McGraw as I want. Sandra McCracken, Sara Groves, and All Sons and Daughters, too. So exciting.)
Fortunately, God was not as bitter as Keith was over his breakup. Actually, God is incapable of these attitudes. He is in a covenant relationship with His people, and so He is literally unable to break His end of the deal. Israel, however, is well known in the Old Testament as the unfaithful wife of God. She keeps betraying Him with other lovers, but He remains faithful even so. (Read the book of Hosea for an incredible portrayal of that adulterous affair.)
With that in mind, maybe instead of a “breakup” message, it’s a message telling them to just hunker down and wait for God to intervene. Maybe it’s a “don’t worry, it will all be over soon” letter or a letter encouraging them to actively resist this pagan nation, to stay pure, to stick together and to fight for their rights.
Nope. Not that either.
God (almost literally) tells them to bloom where they are planted – even though where they are planted is in EXILE.
To be continued…