Brave Enough to Put Down Roots

This post was originally published on The Road to Brave

Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God. 

Jim Elliott

Or, y’know, wherever you are, just scratch the tip of your knife into the map. That’s probably good enough. It’s almost the same thing. 

If you’re like me, that last statement might bring a chuckle to your lips. Except that, laugh notwithstanding, I’ve still done that anyway. 

The chuckle fades slightly.  

For some people, living to the hilt in any given situation seems to come as naturally as a plant putting down roots in good soil. Provide sunlight, pour some water, add some wind to test the strength of the stem or trunk, and voila — roots go deep. 

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Maybe I’m a faulty plant, but that whole “putting roots down” thing just doesn’t feel as natural to me. And yet…I think it’s as much or more a function of my own practice and patterns as it is of my quieter, more reserved personality. 

For the record, this subject is a right-here, right-now thing. It’s something I’m actively wrestling with, actively working through, to try to do things differently than I have for a long time. 

Because for the last four+ years, I’ve had the opportunity to put roots down in different places. To create rhythms of life that include a broader, deeper community. To make new friendships and connections and establish a sense of belonging, rather than just visiting. And for the most part, I’ve largely let those opportunities pass me by.

Maybe you’re the same. Maybe you’re not, but you know someone who has a hard time opening up and plugging into a community. Sometimes it’s really brave to focus on the stuff happening above-ground, on growing upward and outward. But other times, the bravest thing we can do is to take a deep breath and put down roots — even if we’re not in a forever home. 

There are a couple particular reasons I have a harder time with this, and maybe you relate. My first default excuse has often been that I’m going to leave soon, and it’s not worth the effort. 

I grew up with military connections, but without having to do the whole Army-brat-move-every-two-or-three-years situation. I wonder sometimes if that would have helped or hinder the experience of putting down roots in a place. Yet when I moved away from home temporarily for graduate school, and then semi-temporarily (which turned into semi-permanently) to the east coast for an adventure with friends, my thought was not, “How can I make the most of this time?” but rather, “I’m not staying long, so it doesn’t matter.”

That was an easy excuse, and it sounds pretty solid. Justifiable. 

It was also incorrect. 

Yeah, I was going to return home after grad school — and I was planning on heading back to the west coast after a somewhat brief east coast interlude. But embracing the excuse of, “It’s not worth it, I’m not staying long,” also meant that I was living out a different statement with my life. It meant that I was okay with trading the value of friendships or community or “belonging” — even temporarily — in a place for something easier, something lesser. It meant that I proclaimed those things weren’t important enough to me to wrestle through the discomfort. 

And the thing is, I never thought particularly deeply about that. I never got around to actually asking the question, “What is most important here?” 

What was the most important use of my time? Was it really the best use of my time to refuse to dig in? What really mattered?  

But that’s not the whole picture. Part of me felt like it wasn’t worth investing in something so temporary. Yet I think it was an easy excuse to grab because of a deeper issue — I was afraid of putting down roots and then hurting more when they had to get uprooted. 

It felt safer to not build connections I thought would likely be separated by distance when I left. It felt like I was protecting myself against sorrow by keeping up a wall. So I kept my “suitcase packed” mindset, refusing to let my heart emotionally settle in fully. You can live somewhere a long time while only letting your heart sink roots down in specific friendships and specific places. 

I wonder sometimes if we avoid putting roots down because of the discomfort of having part of your heart in multiple places. That means some pain, yes. But it also means a bigger, deeper heart. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the question What really matters here?”Is it really feeling safe by avoiding any kind of pain? Were we created to avoid community so that we don’t risk discomfort? 

The somewhat obvious answer is no. But now…how to live out something different? 

My new husband and I moved to a new city at the end of last summer, one that we know we may only live in for a few years while he completes law school. When we moved here, this issue of building a local community and putting down roots was something we discussed even before finding our current little apartment. I knew I wanted to do something different. Yet now we’re facing the complication of having the desire to put down roots in a place, but very little extra time to do so. 

Spring is in full bloom here, and vibrantly colored blossoms and green leaves are sprouting up right and left. It’s been a time of thinking about the kind of seeds I’m planting in my everyday existence — about the sort of life I am tending. And I wonder if maybe now is the season for planting seeds rather than “full plants” of community and friendship, putting a seed here and a seed there, knowing that growth may come slowly, but that I’m still working to put down roots in the time and space I have. Maybe that’s where grace comes in, too. Knowing I can’t do everything, but that I’m working to be faithful and obedient in the everyday small things and leaving the rest up to God. 

I wonder too if emotionally settling somewhere plays almost as much of a role as building friendships and tucking myself into the fabric of a new area. Choosing to “unpack”, as it were, and let my heart be here for such time as we have. It seems so, in the limited months I’ve spent in our new town thus far. 

And maybe all this is about learning to trust God in new ways (that seems to be the theme of my story). To trust Him with where He has put me right now, to trust Him with my heart if it’s harder to leave after letting my roots dig in, to trust Him by leaning in where He has settled us and looking for active ways to serve and love His people. 

Maybe living to the hilt and being all in are more a process than a single movement. Maybe they’re a series of decisions rather than just one. 

Maybe they’re just part of the courageous life. : ) 

This week, wherever God has us, may we be brave enough to put down roots.