Several years ago, during a particularly difficult time in life, I was at the store and decided to purchase a few succulent plants. I hadn’t really ever had indoor plants before, but there was something symbolic to me about cultivating these little plants. Just as I was to put effort into caring for them to help them grow, I was also putting significant effort into working on this particular life challenge I was facing. Cultivating changes takes hard work.
Four years later, I have about 30 houseplants at my last count. They are all different species. Each takes just a little work to keep growing healthy. They give me a sense of peace in my home. I enjoy my plants very much. My teenage son rolls his eyes when he sees a new plant pop up somewhere in the house.
Changes Start at the Root
Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp wrote an excellent book entitled How People Change. They share my plant analogy, and the front cover shows a tree at three different stages of growth from a small sapling to a mature hardwood. They discuss that when people are making significant changes in life, a lot of times, those changes initiate in the root system.
Throughout the winter a leafless tree is preparing to blossom once again come spring. Sometimes the roots, which are hidden beyond sight, have to be the first thing to change to get any kind of lasting impact.
Be Patient, Growth is a Process
The thing is, if you are like me, you get impatient. Impatient when it takes yourself awhile to make changes and impatient with others who are taking “too long” to make progress. But what if the growth is in process? It is just that we don’t outwardly see it, just like the roots of a tree are hidden below ground.
Lasting change comes through a change in a person’s heart; the heart is our “roots” system.
Several times a year I put fertilizer on my plants. I don’t put the fertilizer on the leaves; I put it on the root system, because the leaves may come and go, but with strong roots, healthy new shoots can keep blooming. When we have heart change, as opposed to quick but fleeting external changes, we can impact our lives positively for years to come.
We can see this in the lives of our patients at the clinic when they go to make changes:
- In order to better manage diabetes, a woman works with our diabetic educator to make small, incremental changes in exercise and nutrition to better her blood sugar levels long-term.
- To gain steady employment, a patient with a scattered work history gets on at a temp job. He plans ahead so he can show up on time, offers to cover other shifts. By showing he is a team player, and eventually is hired on as a full-time employee with benefits, including company health insurance.
- The patient who has ignored health issues for far too long because she is a caregiver, finally comes in for an appointment. She has to work to set boundaries and start to prioritize her own health. This enables her to be strong enough to take care of others. Her family bristles initially at her boundaries. But, eventually they step up to help give her breaks from being a full-time caregiver to their elderly parents. She sees steady improvements in both her physical and mental health.
- A patient recognizes self-defeating behavior. He decides he is willing to meet with a counselor to talk about his past trauma. He recognizes this will be a difficult road. But, he understands once he has found healing from his past, he can have a brighter future.
Worth the Investment in Yourself
Plants take cultivation and attention to achieve their full growth. I think it is worth my investment of time when I get to sit in my living room and enjoy their beauty. Personal growth and positive change also take cultivation and attentiveness, but the investment is well worth the outcome.
What personal changes are you willing to focus some extra time and attention on to make? Then think of someone around you who you could extend some grace and patience to. Support them as they makes changes at their own pace.