Last month, my friend Kelsey guided an eager and eclectic group of women through a series of spiritual disciplines connected by the overarching theme of thirst. We read through Psalm 42 together, meditated on the longing and spiritual thirst expressed by the psalmist, talked about deer pants (a story for another day), savored biscotti, and listened to Sting. As we engaged in these practices, we trained our minds to recognize that Jesus, and Jesus alone, would quench our thirst and water our weary souls.
To help us really focus on the concept of spiritually thirsting for Jesus, one of the disciplines we were encouraged to practice in February and March was to keep a small plant alive. If you’ve been a practicing Christian for any length of time, you might have heard of spiritual disciplines. If you’re newer around here, or in the Christian faith, the word discipline might seem harsh or negative. In this case, the word discipline can be used interchangeably with the word training or practice—it’s a thing you do to train yourself to be or do something.
Watering this small plant was intended to remind us daily of our need for Jesus. Plants need several things to live—sunlight, food, and water. Of these three elements, water is the most important. Just as the plant needs water to survive, we need Jesus to understand how to live life in the kingdom of God.
Now, of the numerous disciplines practiced by the desert fathers and early church back in the third and fourth centuries, watering a potted plant is not listed among them, at least not one that has volumes written about it. That’s okay because several years ago, I was persuaded that anything can be a spiritual discipline—even watering a plant. Weird? Hear me out.
Emily P. Freeman recently wrote, “Anything can be a spiritual discipline if you do it in the presence of God; if the action creates space for connection with and apprenticeship to Jesus.” Her entire Instagram caption is quite clever, you can read it here. This might be a new thought to some of you, but it is a philosophy that has been passed down for many years and is widely embraced by those mentored by the theologian, Dallas Willard. Both my pastor and mentor are big Willard fans, so I’ve grown to appreciate him as well.
Anything can be a spiritual discipline if you do it in the presence of God; if the action creates space for connection with and apprenticeship to Jesus.Emily P. Freeman
So what does that mean—anything can be a spiritual discipline? On a basic level, it really does mean anything with the caveat that 1) it can be done in God’s presence, and 2) it creates space for connection with God. This means driving in silence, walking the track, painting with watercolors, making soup, washing dishes, writing a blog post, folding laundry, savoring a slice of cake, and yes even watering a plant could potentially be spiritual disciplines.
How can this be true and what does this look like walked out in real life? I occasionally wonder that as well, so here are some of my real-life experiences and personal observations:
When I drive around in my car, I am tempted to veg out and listen to music. Hear me—there’s nothing wrong with music. I love music, but there have been seasons where my soul craved connection with Jesus and music was keeping me from him. When I turned the music off—my mind and heart were free to simply be with Jesus. I could pray or praise or weep or meditate on Jesus undistracted by Panic at the Disco or Ed Sheeran. After a season of driving in silence, I felt sufficiently connected and free to return to singing my lungs out!
As a writer, I struggle with feeling selfish about my time. I could be praying or reading the Bible, but instead I’m click-clacking away on my laptop. Here at Still Small Voice, I write about my journey of listening for the voice of God in a noisy world. Writing takes time, energy, and focus, and sometimes requires that I sequester myself in my bedroom or at a coffee shop away from family and friends. Even still, sharing my experience and life with Jesus is a way I intentionally connect with God and with you. It’s also my hope that as a result of my writing, someone somewhere might recognize that life with Jesus is worth considering, or reconsidering.
Making dinner for my family is something I thoroughly enjoy. I love trying new recipes, following food bloggers, and feeding my family. If you follow me on socials, you know I also love to share what’s cooking in my kitchen with the rest of the world! It is very easy to get wrapped up in gadgets and precision, but it is equally easy to repurpose this time to rest in God’s presence and meditate on truths found in scripture. As I create a meal to fill bellies, I recall that time spent with Jesus fills my soul. Often while I’m working in the kitchen, I’m thinking about Jesus. I usually don’t burn dinner, so it works out well.
It’s true that anything can be a spiritual discipline, but equally true is that we must pay attention to our intentions and outcomes. As we consider incorporating practices or disciplines into our lives, we might ask ourselves some questions:
– Is my intention in taking up this discipline to connect with Jesus?
– Will this practice create space to connect with Jesus or will it distract me from my goal?
– Might Jesus have done this if he were me?
– Is engaging in this practice producing good fruit in my life?
These questions aren’t intended to be a checklist for you, but they might serve as helpful filter as you consider ways to connect with Jesus more. Over the past several years, I have found that when Jesus is my main priority, not just one of many main priorities, not only do I feel more connected to him, but I feel more fully alive.
Okay, so back to the potted plant. The picture above is the actual plant sitting near my kitchen window. It almost died. Though I have a backyard vegetable garden, watering a tiny plant every day isn’t something I’m good at. Within a few days of getting the plant, it started to wilt and the soil dried out. I was worried I had failed before I even started, but in actuality I learned more by observing this distressed plant than I might have had I started immediately.
By noticing the plant begin to wilt and the soil drying up, I learned that this plant couldn’t go even one day without being watered. In an effort to revive it, I turned my kitchen sink on full blast. It did nothing—the water seemed to run over the top of the soil and the next day, the plant looked even worse. Discouraged, I left it another day—but it started browning and drying out. It was pretty pitiful and I wasn’t sure I could revive it.
I don’t know what exactly prompted me to go back to it, it’s a silly little plant and I intellectually understood the purpose behind the exercise. I could have easily let it go or gotten a replacement, but I just couldn’t let this little plant die. It looked so sad and all Kelsey asked us to do was keep it alive for thirty days! Surely I could do that. So the next day, I tried a slow steady stream of water and to my surprise, it worked! The soil began to absorb the water and within a few days, the plant perked up. It didn’t need a firehose every few days—it needed a slow and steady stream every day.
We’re more like the plant than perhaps we realize. We are planted, we make our own food, we bring a unique beauty to our environments, and we need water. Like the plant, we can’t make our own water—we need someone to water us. In John’s gospel, Jesus encounters a woman at a well and at one point in their conversation, Jesus tells the woman that had she asked, he would have given her living water. What is living water?
Jesus is the only source of living water—he shows us the path of human flourishing, what it looks like to live in the kingdom of God with God as our heavenly father, and how to love God and our neighbor rightly. These are key components to living a life of spiritual abundance and Jesus offers this life to anyone who would ask—this is the living water he offers us. As I study his life and model my life after his, Jesus is watering my life and I am flourishing.
If you look closely at the picture of my plant, you’ll see remnants of its near-death experience. Y’all, seriously it was crunchy. Watering the plant didn’t eliminate all signs of previous neglect just like connecting with Jesus doesn’t mean we won’t have dead leaves or patches of dry soil. Sometimes dead things need to stay dead to make space for new growth. As we stay connected to the living water only Jesus can give us, those dead parts of us will either be pruned or fall away and new stems, leaves, and flowers will grow in their place.
Making Jesus our most important priority is like a slow and steady stream of living water to our souls. What are some unique and interesting ways you’ve created space to connect with the source of living water in your life? I’d love to hear your experiences!