He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:3
When I was 20 I went to Kenya to visit my sister and her family for about a month. It was my first international traveling experience, which I will never forget. Sights, sounds, and smells filled my senses and altered my imagination in profound ways. Acts of hospitality, the deep sense of community, and the ambivalence towards a utilitarian use of time all ensured that the white, middle-class suburban, college kid I was didn’t go home the same person.
One of the terms I kept on hearing while there was “mzungu.” Everyone I met repeated that term when I came into view. My immediate assumption was that it meant “white person.” I was correct in a sense; “white person” is its connotation.
However, what it really means is one who is always on the move, always wanting to see everything. There is a sense of constant swirling. It stems from the original Europeans entering Africa and “busily swirling around”. It is definitely a loaded word.
In many ways it still holds true today.
One thing I have learned over the past several years is the allegiance to the myth of productivity. We in the West, due primarily to the Industrial Revolution and technological boom of the past 100 years or so, are addicted to being busy in ever-increasing ways. Email, social media, and instant means of “checking in” have allowed us to take our offices with us in our pockets. People are literally working themselves to death in efforts to prove their productivity levels and the evidence of self-worth that comes along with them. It doesn’t take much to show this. Seeing the human as a machine has morphed from a metaphor into an identity.
Buying into the myth of constant productivity is a result of our seeking after growth and results. We think that if we are always busy, things will grow. Our businesses will grow, our intellects will expand, and our bottom lines will be blacker. Results will flourish based on how often and how long our noses are against the grindstone. “Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil” quipped Carl Jung.
I wonder how much of our result-driven busyness comes out of our formulaic attempts at growth. If we implement this guru’s wisdom here, align this methodology there, add enough pressure, and we’ll succeed. A + B = C. When this doesn’t pan out, we often give up or think we are not busy enough with the correct solutions to the problem.
The same postures and practices are found within the Church, the very community in which fruitfulness and growth cannot be coerced.
Perhaps it is from our fervent evangelistic outreaches. Perhaps it is our pursuits of justice. Whether we’re a megachurch or a church that fits in a living room, in many ways, we tend to fall into the trap of thinking fruit is always in season and that growth is always available. Again, we tend to bail out when produce is not easily seen.
If you are like me and the communities of faith I’ve been a part of, we tend to love the “whatever he does prospers” section of the above Psalm. We tend to think that we are infused with the power of God and as we do the things Christians do, we will find ourselves and our efforts bearing fruit.
Yet the natural world knows nothing of this. Seasons of produce give way to seasons of stagnation. Fruitfulness comes in harvest, yet is only possible after plowing, seeding, and waiting. Like the tree firmly planted, fruitfulness only comes in its season.
This reality is essential for those partnering with God in his missional movement of renewal. Despite our best efforts, we can formulate growth. We cannot read books, attend conferences, and listen to podcasts from “the experts” and expect growth to occur. Like the tree firmly planted, we are called to do just that: be firmly planted.
Staying put, working among others, and being present within the contexts we have been placed is the core of what it means to engage in mission. The supermarket mentality of fruit always being in season begins to fade into a farmers’ market reality of seasons as we remain rooted where we are. Constant swirling around and busyness will not bring about produce; it is the long, aching, persevering staying-put-ness that will. As we do this, we will see seasons of fruit come along with the seasons of plowing, seeding, and waiting. Discerning the different seasons is key. It will give us roots to see beyond the seemingly lack of fruit for the season of plowing we are in.
Seeing fruit comes to those who remain firmly planted waiting for its season.
Other posts in this Lent series: