Updated: May 17, 2020
I’ve never been good at keeping plants alive. I usually forget to water them, and they quickly start to wilt. But in the past year, I’ve gained a small collection of succulents, and they’re all still alive. I leave them out on my porch, water them once or twice a week (or let the rain do the job) and watch them grow. In fact, one is propagating (a new fancy word I learned) so fast, I can barely keep up with it.
Because I’ve enjoyed these succulents so much, I decided to try one inside to brighten up
the corner of my dining room (since the unfinished nightstand is no longer taking up residence there). I set up this cute little table, hoping that the sunlight coming in through the sliding glass door would be enough to provide what this little plant needs. Unfortunately, the little guy wasn’t doing as well as I had hoped. Its leaves started turning brown and wilting, and some of the stems seemed to be stretching and thinning out. It didn’t have quite the same appeal that it did when I first bought it.
Even as I saw the plant start to go downhill, I just kept hoping that somehow it would turn around. Somehow it might start to revive if I just left it where it was and kept watering it. Albert Einstein said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” And yet, there I was watering, watching, and hoping.
I read somewhere recently that when succulents don’t get enough sunlight, they will begin to stretch. They actually bend toward the light and reach for it. I found that so fascinating that this plant knows what it needs and when it’s not receiving that nourishment that it requires, it begins to reorient itself in an attempt to gain what it needs.
Nature can teach us a few things. How often do I neglect the things that my body or soul needs? Do I even recognize what those needs are? As humans, we all have certain needs. But I feel like we’ve often been taught to either ignore our needs or to fulfill our needs in the wrong places. Our culture tells us to keep moving forward, to keep striving, to ignore the pain, but our bodies and souls cry out. Are you listening?
As a stay at home mom to young children, much of my day is spent attending to the needs of others. It’s what I signed up for and I’m so grateful for the role I get to play, but it can also be exhausting. Not long ago, as we were dealing with another round of sickness, I confessed to my husband that I often start to feel sorry for myself when someone else in the family is sick. I have a hard time dealing with the extra demands that are placed on me and the interruptions to my plans, my sleep, and my limited free time. Normally, when these feelings arise, I have a pity party in my mind and then try to stuff the feelings down, convincing myself that I need to let go of my selfishness and push through.
Thankfully, my husband didn’t shame me for reaching my limit as I poured myself out. Instead, he recognized my need. He came home early from work the next day and ushered me out of the house for some time to myself. It felt strange to go out on my own with no agenda, but once I got over the initial awkwardness of it, I realized how much my soul craved some solitude.
Just recently, I’ve learned that I need small chunks of time every once in a while where I don’t have to meet anyone else’s needs and can simply do things that give me life. In the past, I’ve felt guilty for wanting that, but now I’m coming to accept that my limits and needs are simply part of what it is to be human. When I ignore my needs, I start to wither. Specifically, that looks like self pity, irritability, and anxiety for me. But if I can pay attention to the signs that I’m running on empty, embrace my limits, and reorient myself toward what I need, I can be refreshed.
Our bodies and souls will cry out in various ways – pain, sickness, anxiety, shame. We can ignore these signs and try to stuff them down or outrun them. We can try to fill the void with things that will never satisfy. Or we can learn to recognize the signs and reach out for what we need.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. – Psalm 42:1