“Bloom where you are planted” was one of those popular phrases that once adorned coffee mugs and wall plaques and was meant to inspire contentment and purpose regardless of circumstance or situation. I still see it occasionally, mostly in thrift store bins or the nether reaches of cyberspace, but new catch phrases have supplanted it: “Keep calm and carry on,” “Live life to the fullest.” However it is expressed, there is an underlying reality behind these popular dictums: life is hard at times but we want it to still have meaning and to feel like we are going somewhere in the midst of it.
I do not deny this reality. But what I question are the other implications inherent but overlooked within these “purpose-giving” mantras. They all emphasize individual action – we need to bloom, keep calm, live life. We are the ones in control of all such actions. We can make life, direct life, shape life in ways that better meet our desires and expectations. Armed with the right attitudes and a good dose of self-love, we are enough to navigate the vicissitudes of life. Meaning and purpose are results of our doing.
I do not think this is so. Attitudes, towards self and others and even circumstance, are important, but relying solely on our own doing is a trap. Inaction and passivity are not desirable, but much of our society over-emphasizes action and activity at the sacrifice of reflection and rest and looking and listening. And increasingly, the notion that life might actually have ultimate meaning and purpose because God is the creator and sustainer of it, is ridiculed and debunked. Or just simply ignored – even by those who claim to believe in him.
I am no great theologian or philosopher or apologist, but I am, like everyone else, living a life that is often hard and sometimes those difficult parts grind abrasively against meaningfulness and aggressively erode purposefulness. When we lost our son to suicide almost six years ago, I never once reminded myself to “Bloom where you are planted” or “Keep calm and carry on.” What continually nourished my soul in the depths of that personal tragedy, and continues to do so in the face of world atrocities and life’s uncertainties is an invitation from God himself: “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10).
Sometimes being still before God is actually harder than trying to fix life myself. Sometimes it is helpful for me to think less about blooming where I am planted, and more about stopping where I am planted and looking at what God has caused to blossom and unfurl. I’m discovering incredible beauty in those places.