These are a couple definitions

  • Encircling roots at the bottom the rootball of a container-grown plant that indicate it has been left too long in too small a pot.
  • (of a pot plant) having outgrown its pot, so that the roots are cramped and tangled

About a year ago, the adjective rootbound resonated in my mind at a time where I had felt I had reached capacity in what I was doing in a lot of areas. In ministry, I felt like the team I worked with cared more than those who were to direct us. Professionally, I was not feeling challenged and basically just existed in a maintenance mode of previous growth and for a lack of a better term, I just felt like a large plant stuffed into a small hole. There was no fancy diagnosis, just a feeling that can only be described as a rootbound plant.

Am I a plant or a person?

Rootbound is the word that seemed appropriate at the time. There are many resources to describe it from the actual botanical angle to the spiritual comparisons. In either approach, the comparisons hit home when I considered them. I once heard that the first thing you need to do when repotting a plant was to “tickle the roots”. Simply putting a rootbound plant in a new hole is not the answer as the life giving root to the plant is all bound up in the shape that caused the problem in the first place.

Not a green thumb for sure

It is said that a rootbound plant eventually does not respond to water, loses vitality, stops flowering, growth stops, a hardening of the roots occurs and yellowing will occur from a lack of nutrients. How’s that for a picture of yourself? Have you felt that way? In a transplant, there is an actual cutting of the roots that must happen. Most plants will go into a shock at this time. Even with proper care, it is expected that there is a die off of growth for a period, a continued lack of flowering for a season. And of course, planting in too large of a pot can lead to water saturation and rot.

A season of rest

So where is all this going? From a pure life perspective, I see a lot of this in my day. We go along and accept our circumstances as normal after awhile. We slowly die off from what was once a thriving period of growth. Like a normal healthy pruning of a tree or plant to stimulate growth, we need to allow those seasons to occur. In this world of “need to have it now” when it comes to what is going on in the world, it is no easy task to just sit and wait. But nature itself proves this as a good thing. Consider the rose bush that is seasonally chopped each winter only to produce the most fragrant flower in the spring. Or the grapevine reduced to a gnarly twisted wood only to produce the finest wine.

What did Jesus say?

In Matthew 9:17, Jesus warns against pouring new wine into old wineskins and that the idea that He, Himself brings a newness that cannot be confined to the old form. As we grow, it is natural to pour ourselves into a new form. Rootbound is about that idea. It is about knowing it may be time for a change, learning to stop and just wait, accepting that what outer beauty there was is ok to die off knowing that properly rooted, an abundance of growth is in the offering. It’s about the long term investment you have made in your life. The kind of moment where you can look back five years, ten years, and see where God was only in retrospect.

My current journey in the wait is now thirteen months and there have been some amazing movements of God after a season of time where I thought I had nothing else to give. The roots are now pointed down as they say, absorbing new life and there is a budding of new faith happening. I’m twenty years in my walk and very much believe I am just beginning to know the heart of my God.




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