I have a houseplant. Her name is Henrietta (well, once there were two houseplants, Henry and Henrietta. But Henry died).
Henrietta was a gift from my aunt, who has a green thumb. I don’t have a green thumb (See “Henry”). I like Henrietta because I water her once a week and she still graces me with pretty pink flowers. She’s called a “crown of thorns” and she’s been with me since college. Every move I’ve made her perky green leaves have been happily sticking out of some box in the back of my car.
I’m also part of a young adults small group. It’s basically a discipleship intensive. We say we follow Jesus, but what does that mean? How can we follow Him, be like Him, abide in Him, do all the churchy things that sound so hard but should be so simple?
We gather Thursday night, under fluorescent lights and around plastic tables (we would be in a home, but dang you Covid). This week, we split into small groups and do a prayer exercise. Praise. Confession. Surrender. Listening. My table is five gals seated around, each with our own lives and stories. And He’s there, I know He is, and I tear up because it’s the first time I have felt His presence, here, in an ordinary place with ordinary people, in a long time.
We listen, and it may sound wacky or charismatic, but we’re trying to hear what the Spirit is trying to say, to us ordinary girls in the ordinary room, under the fluorescent lights.
My friend Alex goes first- she sees us dancing in joy, and the verse-of-the-day on her phone “happens” to be Romans 12:13, which is as her translation puts it:
“Now may God, the fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope!” (The Passion Translation)
Louise goes next, sharing the image of waves on the sand, a symbol of God’s peace.
Molly is after- she sees two hands gently cultivating a flower. The hands are God, she says, and the flower is us.
I’m next, and caught in a web, thinking of my own sin. I’ve just gotten out of a messy situation, the kind you only tell your best friend and your counselor about. It has left me with much shame and regret. So all I have to share is a bit of a Needtobreathe song that floats in my head: “leave the past right where it’s at,” and a fragment of a verse: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13).
Kristina shares that she felt cold all over, and in light of what Molly shared about the flower, says that though there are some seasons where we feel cold and distant from God, this doesn’t mean that God isn’t still working. I write in my notes, “cold doesn’t mean dead.”
And we keep praying, thanking God that he’s a like a good gardener, he grows us in peace and love and joy; he protects us like a greenhouse; he nurtures us like sunlight and water (small caveat- while we ladies are rejoicing in God’s gardener-care for us, men are at the next table thinking about a scene from the movie 300 and gas stations and how that reminds them of God’s care for them).
And as we’re praying, I see in my mind Henrietta, in the window, where she always is. And I thought about something: every time she loses a leaf, or an old flower that’s long dead, I let it fall into the pot and don’t throw it away. The dead thing stays there, and decomposes, and becomes part of the soil that nourishes and gives her life.
And I feel like the Lord says to me, “That mess, that terrible sin, that abuse? Yes, it once was part of you, living. But now it’s dead. It lies in the soil, still recognizable, but it has no power now. Give it time. It will dissolve into the soil, and will (I know this is hard to understand) nourish you. All that remains is grace.”
This really makes me almost-cry. And I share it with the group, and it seems meaningful to many, so I share it here.
I want you to know- if you’ve been caught in sin, the worst of it, King-David or woman-caught-in-adultery sin, first- I’m right here with you, raising my hand, guilty as the day is long.
Second, if you’ve confessed and repented- you’ve cut that part clean off of you. The hand that caused you to sin or the eye that caused you to lust is in the dirt, dead. Yes, consequences remain (I wish with all my heart they didn’t) but the sin that got you there is D-E-A-D dead.
And, as my Aunt Anne says, your defining moment is not the sin that you feel so mars you. Your defining moment happened 2,000 years ago on a cross when the love of your life laid his life down for you. And so victory is ours, in its fullness, because of that moment. But the working-out can take time. So give it time. Trust our gracious Savior. He doesn’t waste stuff. And though it grieves His heart, he isn’t surprised when we screw it up–royally. If I’ve learned anything through all this, it’s that He loves me more than I dared imagine. When I have nothing- nothing!! – to offer Him, he scoops me up and tends to me like a precious flower. And because he has declared me precious, somehow I am.
And the third point comes at the end of that night, because when I went home and thought about it some more, I realized:
“With all that dead stuff that has fallen off of Henrietta, she’s still a pretty plant.”
And, of course, it’s because all that dead stuff is off of her that she’s pretty. Jesus talked about His father being the vinedresser and taking away branches that bear no fruit (John 15:2) He was talking about people who don’t abide in Him (John 15:6), but He does that on a micro-level, if we allow Him, in our lives as well. He cuts out the things that aren’t growing anything good (read: sin) and lets them fall to the ground. But even those things He doesn’t waste:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28
There’s some sort of funny kids song about this verse where the singer yells “how many things??” and the kids yell back “ALL THINGS!”
He uses all things. That includes your mess and your sin.
So let us “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). As you confess and repent- don’t look too closely at that stuff you’re leaving behind. Yes, yes. Process, get counseling, do what you need to do. But remember – it is dead. It’s at the foot of the cross. And the God who loves you more than is humanly possible is using it for His glory and your good.
And for whoever needs to hear this, I don’t care what you’ve done, God made you and you’re still a pretty plant.