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The more I delved into the world of houseplants, the more I began to see life-changing spiritual metaphors all around me.

I used to be the kind of person who inadvertently killed any houseplant to cross our threshold. One time I even watered an African violet without noticing it was not at all real. But in the past seven years or so I have become a Plant Person, graduating from succulents to spider plants to hanging a propagation station on my kitchen wall and growing new plants from cuttings to keep or share. I collect rainwater and infuse it with pulverized worm casings to nourish my indoor jungle, and I keep track of which plants need a biweekly misting or dusting and which ones do not.

At some point this hobby became a pastime that for me ranks up there with reading, writing, and travel as things I most want to do with my time off. The more I delved into the world of houseplants, the more I began to see life-changing spiritual metaphors all around me.

Faith Unfurled

One day I noticed that plants all over the house were unfurling like a sail or flag opening to the wind, expanding and transforming slowly from tight little buds or rolled-up leaves to openness and fullness. Currently, my Monstera obliqua, peace lily, golden pothos, and Calathea (commonly called a “prayer plant”) are all spreading out from a folded state, becoming fuller day by day.

I realized that faith is really like that all the time. We are asked to hold on to faith every day, in big ways and small, but often our faith starts out like a tiny, tightly wound bud. Yet with God’s help, it can stretch and grow into openhearted trust and reliance on God.

Recently, my faith was twisted into a little bud. Two freelance projects would not land, and I kept trying to be the air traffic controller. Finally I realized that I needed to trust that God would land those projects if and when the time was right.

Faith is “trusting that the presence of God is sufficient for you—wise enough to guide you and good enough to help you,” writes pastor Faith Eury Cho. Watching my plants unfurl day by day reminds me that my faith is also ever-becoming, ever-expanding.

Sunny Windowsills

I love to watch my plants stretch toward the sun. Most houseplants require “bright, indirect light”—about 20% of the strength of direct sunlight outdoors. How do you measure light? There are gadgets for this, of course, but first one must discover which plants love the sun and which are happier in low, dappled light reminiscent of their shady rainforest habitats. When plants are in a rooting state—say, hanging in vials on my kitchen wall—it is critical they receive enough light. Yet even just a few feet from the window, indoor light levels are usually 1% or less of the light outdoors.

The truth is that we too must stay close to the light of God’s care and wisdom if we want to bloom and shine. Are we stretching toward the light, or shrinking back into darkness?

Some of my favorite sun-seekers are the easy-peasy golden pothos; air plants, which thrive on air and feed themselves on photosynthesis alone; and the fascinating bromeliads. A bromeliad’s most intriguing feature is the water catchment device formed by the concentric leaves in the center of the plant. I was taught to water mine directly into this cup, which in an outdoor setting would retain enough water to sustain the plant during a dry spell. God’s children also have this indwelling source of refreshment and relief in a dry and weary land. Scripture often speaks of God being a refuge, a fortress, and a hiding place—someplace we can go when we are thirsty for guidance, protection, and comfort. “I will give you hidden treasures … in secret places,” says Isaiah 45:3.

Robust Roots

A good root system is crucial for a leafy, verdant plant. I am mesmerized when my little plant cuttings in water suddenly pop out thick, strong roots. The Bible mentions the concept of rootedness often. “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7, NLT). We are tethered to God, rooted in God’s saving grace and love.

Roots have a dark side, though. A plant’s roots become damaged and even ruined by overwatering. Yes, the No. 1 way to kill a plant is by overwatering it. Too much water overwhelms the root system, which then festers beneath the soil. We too can become overwhelmed and flooded with concerns. “The waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to perish,” Lamentations 3:54 says.

If a plant gets mired in the muck caused by overwatering, it can lead to deadly root rot. This summer, my family and I took a trip to South Korea, our daughter’s homeland. Our housesitter, terrified she would kill one of my green babies by underwatering, watered and watered until my aloe vera was bloated, mushy, and soon quite dead.

Root rot is kind of like shame. The more we get swamped in the miry pits of shame, the weaker and unhealthier we become spiritually. Thankfully, we serve a God who is always watching over us, ready to lift us out of the dark, festering places and set us on dry land where the sun can find us and heal us. “He shall send from heaven and save me,” Psalm 57:3 says; “He reproaches the one who would swallow me up” (NKJV).

Turning Over a New Leaf

My favorite plant to give to someone experiencing a life change is the Calathea, the prayer plant. The nickname describes the daily movements of their leaves, which curl up at night and straighten in the daytime, tracking with the sun’s movements in the sky. These many-splendored plants symbolize new beginnings. Just as God’s mercies are new every morning, so the prayer plant unfurls its leaves and opens itself to the sun each day.

These days, my Calathea is also teaching me about hope. After lamenting the lowbrow tap water it was drinking and objecting to being moved too close to the window, it threw a fit, shriveled up, and seemed to die. “If there’s still green in it, there’s still hope,” said my plant guru, Tony. I began researching and catering to its every whim with regular mistings of rainwater and appropriate shade. And then, in a kind of resurrection, my beautiful plant came back to life with new shoots and healthy, lush leaves that spread out every morning, inviting me to anticipate what God might do next in my life and asking me to place my hope in God.

“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to ‘those who take care of us,’” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass.

As I care for my plants, I witness them reaching for the light even as they anchor themselves to the earth. They also take care of me, purifying the air, calming me with their cascading greenery, and delighting me with the ways they flourish and grow. Most of all, they teach me to lean toward the Son even as I send roots deep into the ground.

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