When we moved into our house, my mother-in-law gave us a little potted plant. Impatiens plants are appropriately named. They are impatient for water and wilt if not watered frequently. In the stress of our move, I neglected the plant for weeks. The flowers fell off and it turned deathly brown. I almost threw it away, but decided to water it and see what happens.
To my surprise, it turned green again, growing new stems and sprouting leaves. I was so proud of this little plant that I put it on the windowsill above my sink. Then I knocked it over and it lost two limbs, leaving only one frail stalk. It was ugly. And pitiful. I almost threw it away—again.
But I thought if it survived weeks of drought, maybe it can survive losing its limbs, too. Soon it began to sprout flowers and bloom again, growing more beautiful after it was nearly destroyed. It came back more vibrant and full, more alive than ever.
Before long it outgrew its pot, turning almost bush-like. I started trimming the stems and transplanting them into other pots. This one little impatiens plant has multiplied to at least ten other pots, and is still going.
There is a word inscribed on the side of the original pot it came in: Hope. Resilient, foolish, scandalous hope.
God taught me through this little plant that hope can endure incredible amounts of neglect and trauma. It can go through dry seasons, get knocked over and lose half its limbs. But give it a little water and a little time, and it will grow again into something more beautiful and more resilient than it ever was. And that kind of hope multiplies in abundance.
I preached a sermon about hope last summer, just when I had all but given up on getting pregnant again after two miscarriages and waiting a year. It felt like God was utilizing my body as a parable for what we were also experiencing in ministry at the same time—losses, grief, and waiting for growth. God had taught me a lot about hope during this period and I felt like he was saying, “Bette, I want you to be the embodiment of hope as you give this message.”
So I proclaimed that hope is like a seed in the soil that we cannot see with our eyes, but God grows it in the dark, unseen places over time. And unbeknownst to me as I gave that message, I was pregnant with a little hope growing inside me, too. For nine months, as my baby grew in me, I reflected on this long journey of planting, waiting, and trusting God for the harvest.
I’ve spent much of the last two years praying and hoping for things I’ve sown to spring above the soil so I can see them: praying for God to transform my students, praying for salvation for the people I most love, praying to get pregnant. I have reaped with joy as God has answered some of these prayers; others I’m still waiting on.
But I’ve learned that there is far more to this whole process than I had thought. There are greater things that God offers us in the rich soil of adversity than simply receiving the reward of the harvest.
I’ve found that when we reach out for God in the midst of the painful dry seasons, our roots grow deeper in search of water and our stems grow up towards the sky in search of light. And as we stretch out towards God, not only do we find him, but we also find that we have grown too. Our roots have deepened and the journey has strengthened us in a way that can weather any future storm. There is no other way this can happen.
Often we wait and wonder when the seeds we planted are going to sprout their little green leaves above ground. But it’s under the soil that the growth is happening.
It’s what grows when you persist in faithfulness, regardless of the outcome. It’s what that takes root when you continue in obedience to God, even when everything around you is screaming that it’s not worth the sacrifice. It’s what is cultivated in the soil when you have waited and prayed and hoped for God to come through: perseverance, character, patience, long-suffering, and even joy. You won’t realize it until later, when the harvest finally does come, that you’re a little stronger, a little more resilient, and a little more patient for the journey ahead.
Seeds of Hope
I believe there are little seeds of hope in each of us, little possibilities scattered in the soil of our souls. They are formed out of our dreams and grow with the ever-changing seasons of life. They take shape and take root through costly sacrifice, of dying to self so something new might grow and multiply into many seeds for the Kingdom of God. I believe that even when we feel like giving up after many months of darkness and drought, hope comes to show us that there is still life in the darkness. We just have to be willing to give it a chance to grow.
We may feel the aches and pains of growth now, and when that day of birth or harvest comes, we may go through excruciating labor to deliver something unique into the world. But on that day, may we be like mothers who forget the pain of labor at the sight of their baby. May we be left breathless, with tears of joy, as we behold what God forms in us through pain and waiting and longing for more.
May our lives ever be given over to the dreams that are costly with trust and hope that the One who makes everything grow will turn them in due time into lovely plants and children and ministries that fascinate and bewilder us as we behold them.
And may we have the joy of witnessing beautiful transformation not only in these things, but also in us. May we be surprised to find that when we reap, the harvest isn’t always “out there” but is in us, growing with songs of life and new birth greater than we ever could have anticipated at the outset.
“Seeds of Hope” Oil and Acrylic on Clayboard. Original work by Bette Dickinson.
Bette Lynn Dickinson has been on staff with InterVarsity for 5 years. She planted Imago Dei Arts Community, InterVarsity’s first Arts plant. As an artist, Bette connects her journey as a painter, photographer, and writer in Kalamazoo with ministry to artists. She graduated from WMU with a BA in 2008, a Masters of Divinity from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2011, and was ordained with the Reformed Church in America in 2014 as a Specialized Minister with InterVarsity. Bette and her husband love being parents for their son, Isaiah. You can read more from Bette at www.bettedickinson.com.
The blog is an avenue for staff and student leaders to hear from the visionary leaders of Collegiate Ministries about theological formation, discipleship, chapter planting, chapter growth, and other key ministry themes for campus work.