Just recently I gave away a plant I’d received 12 years ago. I was doing a year-long residency as a chaplain in Northwest Detroit when our mentor gave each one of us a plant, instructing us to bring it back at the end of the year. Turned out it was his way of reminding us to always be attentive to the life that is in our care – no matter how small – for all of life is precious and in need of nurturing.
So many experiences drove that lesson home, leading me deeper, drawing me closer to Christ and helping me to notice and nurture those around me. In many ways that plant and I flourished those next 8 years! What transformative years those were! It was so easy to see God’s invitations and oh, so easy to say “Yes!” I said “Yes” to service and community and then, one day, to marriage. And I joyfully said “Yes” to all the unknowns that come with each of those.
And then, our son arrived, followed closely by our daughter… and, when our son was almost 3 and ½, another baby girl. The smiles! The snuggles! What joy! What blessing! But, and here’s the thing that I swear no one told me: What exhaustion! What unrelenting neediness! What life-grinding-to-a-screeching-halt transformation! And suddenly, one morning as I reached bleary-eyed for coffee, I noticed that plant. It was not looking good. Somehow in the midst of caring for our three little ones, I had forgotten to notice and nurture the life that was around me…
No, wait a minute, that can’t be true! I was feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and caring for the sick… and doing those things 24-hours a day! And I’d radically changed my life precisely so that I could nurture and care for these precious children of God. Never before had those I was privileged to serve interrupted my sleep on a daily basis or been held in my arms while I peed. Actually the more I thought about it, although I wasn’t serving in the same ways I had in the past, by responding to these most basic needs with love, reverence and joy, I was in fact serving in a very arms-wide-open, love-poured-forth-lavishly, probably-won’t-ever-get-to-shower-again sort of a way.
So, I gave away the plant. I figured I didn’t need it. I had three little ones and a husband to daily draw me out of myself and, sometimes quite loudly, remind me to nourish and nurture life.
Parenting, like all of life, is an invitation to be transformed. As parents or as ones who care for children, we are constantly called to be of service. Does it end there? Of course not! As we nurture and respond to Christ, both around and within us, we are drawn ever-closer to Him… and drawn ever-outward in service that gives life to ourselves and others.