We the Branches

This weekend, almost to the day, I will move for the fifth time in twelve months. After bouncing from a summer internship in Richmond to my college apartment at Mason to a semester abroad in Oxford to my parents’ house for two months of a statewide shutdown, I will pack up my boxes and move back to my college apartment, where, God willing, I will stay for an entire calendar year. It will be the longest I have lived in one place since high school. Maybe this year I will begin to settle in, maybe even call it home beyond next May, but for now, I am expecting to be uprooted again come graduation.

This past year, I have felt anything but rooted. In every city, I put down some roots, of course–I made friends, went to church, found coffee shops and running trails–but I was always careful, always knowing that in three months, then two, then one, I would pack up and go. Though it has been gritty and meaningful and worthy, this constant change has not been easy. In every city, I made friends that I knew I might never see again, came home to an empty house some nights, and, at the end, packed my boxes knowing I would need to pack them again three months later. I fell in love with my temporary rhythms, all the while knowing they were temporary. It is hard to bloom where you are planted when you do not even feel planted.

Though I was without roots, I wanted–want–so desperately to grow. I love the idea of growth; I always have. I have been reading Lore Ferguson Wilbert’s blog (especially this post) and savoring art from Morgan Harper Nichols as each returns to themes of blooming, planting, pruning. I keep thinking about my best friend’s valedictory speech from two years ago, in which she called her listeners to stay rooted in Truth and to grow toward Light. And, in recent weeks, John 15 has had this funny way of coming up (I shared it on our Instagram on Monday), reminding me that in this treelike Kingdom (Luke 13:18-19), Jesus is the true vine, His Father the vinedresser, and we the branches. We are told not only to bear fruit, but also to expect to be pruned when we do, so that we might bear even more. So it goes: fruit-bearing and pruning, fruit-bearing and pruning, and from it all, growth.

We cannot grow, though, unless we are first rooted. We are not rooted in our places or our intelligence or our physical ability or our reputations or our vocations. Those roots are fragile. They snap as soon as the first storm hits. Instead, branches that bear fruit are rooted in the Vine. In fact, they cannot bear fruit unless they abide in it (John 15:4). Growth requires roots, and those roots must be in Christ.

This is, after all, where this blog gets its name. Common Ground comes from Ephesians 3:14, 17-19:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Ephesians 3:14, 17-19 ESV

We named our blog Common Ground because, despite our differences, the three of us are rooted and grounded in love. We share the common ground of Christ. When we started the blog two years ago, Ana and Leah and I were each about to head into our second year of college. Today, Leah is a college graduate and Ana and I are seniors. Two years is not a long time, but it has been long enough to produce substantive change and growth in each of us. For my part, when Common Ground first started, I was just beginning to learn what it was like not to have physical roots. Two years later, I am still learning what it means to be rooted and grounded in love.

Unfortunately, this means that too often, I am rooted and grounded in fear. As change whirls by like seasons in a time machine, I feel left behind by all of it. Though I will be in one place for twelve months–or perhaps because I will be in one place for twelve months–the future has never looked so completely uncertain as it does right now. So I dig my roots into toxic soil. I fear the future, fear that I am unlovely or unloved. Most of all, I fear that somehow in all the change, beauty and goodness have passed me by and all I can do is pick up the pieces they left behind and create a secondhand masterpiece destined to end up at the curb.

These bad roots leave me shaking every time the wind blows my way. You cannot bear fruit if you do not abide in Me, Jesus warns his disciples. You cannot bear fruit if you have no depth of soil. But if you do, if you hear the word and receive it, if you put down roots in good soil, you will bear fruit, thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold (Matthew 13:8).

Good roots anchor us. They keep us firmly planted during hurricane season. When we are rooted and grounded in love, we have strength to comprehend the incomprehensible: God’s fullness and Christ’s love (Eph 3:17-19). To be rooted and grounded in love is to have Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith. To be rooted and grounded in love is for His love, His sacrifice, to give us life and to fill our lives. To be rooted and grounded in love is to receive His words and trust in Him alone. And branches that are rooted in the Vine like this, branches that abide in Him, bear fruit (John 15).

Branches that are rooted grow.

In seasons where change is the only constant, growth is rapid and easy to see. It’s much harder to see in seasons of repetition, of sameness–dare I say it, of shutdown. Still, in both, if we are rooted, we grow. I have spent the last twelve months either changing or preparing for change, and I will spend the next twelve months wearing the same path on the same carpet in the same few hundred square feet. In both, though I expect the growth will be different, I trust I will grow and bear fruit because I am rooted well. By that, I mean I trust I will learn to love more selflessly, rejoice more frequently, speak more peaceably and kindly and gently, act with more patience and more self-control, seek more goodness, and live more faithfully–not by my own doing, but by the Spirit that lives in me (Galatians 5:18-24).

If you are a believer, the same Spirit lives in you, and He is able to bear the same fruit in you. Maybe you’re reading this from the comfortable armchair you’ve planted by your window from which to watch your garden bloom for the twentieth summer in a row. Maybe you are in your bedroom just after graduating from high school, three months from packing it up, wondering how you’ll fit it all into boxes. Or maybe you, like me, are in merely the latest apartment in a long string of apartments, waiting for your next inevitable uprooting. Maybe you will spend this weekend at home, the latest in a series of weekends that have begun to blend together, or maybe this is a time of upheaval, death and birth, grief and new beginnings.

Regardless, whatever awaits you, whether change or constants or constant change, if you are rooted well, you will grow.

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