Real Talk: Are we adding new rules to being a Christian?

Real talk, are we (accidentally) adding new rules to being a Christian when we pass around well-intentioned phrases like “bloom where you’re planted”?

Things that concern me:
1) Spiders, ticks, and bed bugs. Forming an alliance. Getting along.
2) The unfinished part of my basement. Filled with spiders, ticks, and bed bugs. Not really, but what if?!?
3) Chinese quality control
4) Christianese

Recently I’ve been struggling with how we can recite Christianese with all the authority of scripture. It’s like we’re adding to the Bible. It reminds me a lot of what the Pharisees did back in the day, maybe at first with good intentions because they wanted so desperately to please God. That’s a whole other conversation I’m not going to get into.

But long story short, are we still doing it today? Adding new rules and things to do in a (well meaning) attempt to be good Christians?

Like this one:

Bloom where you’re planted.

I see love your neighbor, be light and salt, go and make disciples of all the nations, do unto others as you would have them do to you, and many other Biblical calls to love and serve others. I can’t for the life of me find “bloom where you’re planted” in the Bible.

When I tried to trace its origins I got as far back as Frances de Sales, a Bishop of Geneva in the 1600s.

Here’s the thing. I think this phrase was originally coined with good intentions. A call to serve how we can where we are now, instead of waiting for someday when…  And that concept certainly is scriptural, as well as the metaphors of being planted and blooming (or bearing fruit) (i.e. Psalm 92:12-14, Jeremiah 17:7-8, Galatians 5:22-23) . But the phrase itself is not scriptural, and it’s easily misconstrued.

Lately I’ve heard this phrase recited by Christians about everything from our jobs to the cities where we live to our churches with an uncomfortable emphasis on being planted, almost as if the idea of being planted in one place is scriptural. And the idea of moving on is, well, a matter of unfaithfulness.

But when the Bible speaks of planting, isn’t it often referring to planting seeds (sharing the Gospel) and/or being rooted in Christ and God’s word, not so much being planted in a particular place?

So it’s concerning that this well-meaning phrase has led so many Christians to believe they’re planted, or stuck, in one place. By God, no less.

And it creates so many questions. Like how do we know when we’re planted and when we’re not? If I move to California because I like the climate, am I planted there? Or does God have something better for me somewhere else? And how do we know how long we’re supposed to be planted somewhere? Is the high school senior allowed to explore out of state college options more than the married family of four is allowed to explore out of state job opportunities? Because leaving your home town for college is normal, but leaving your residence of the past 5 years for a new opportunity means you’re not blooming where planted?

But what if we’re not “planted” at all? What if we’re just loving our neighbors, being light and salt, and sharing the gospel wherever we go, no matter how long we may be there? What if we’re only supposed to be somewhere for a season, and that’s ok? What if we’re just passing through, like the Israelites on the way to the promised land. God didn’t plant them in the desert for 40 years (although in His omniscience He knew they’d stay). They did that to themselves, moving round and round the same mountain because they were less scared of staying in the same place than fighting their way into the promised land. God still blessed the Israelites in the desert, but that doesn’t mean he wanted them to stay there.

Are we missing out on opportunities because we’re too focused on being planted?

Can you imagine if Matthew was like “Sorry Jesus, I can’t leave this tax booth to follow you. I’m going to bloom where I’m planted”?

Or if Abraham, Moses, or Ruth stayed “planted”?

Or missionaries? “Sorry, God, I can’t pack up my family and move to another country. I’m blooming where I’m planted.”

Or me? “Sorry, hubby, I can’t pack up and move cross country to your neck of the woods so that we can get married and start our life together. I’m blooming where planted.” Yes, I said neck of the woods. That’s probably the first and last time you’ll ever hear me say it.

Or the artist who’s been gifted with so much talent but is afraid to leave her current job and start her own business because that might mean she’s not grateful for her current situation and she’s not blooming where planted?

Are we adding new rules to being a Christian?

Can we focus less on being “planted” and agree that we should serve and love our neighbors no matter where we are and no matter how long we stay? Can we agree that sometimes moving on to a new city or job or whatever is okay or even best for us, and it doesn’t mean we love our neighbors or coworkers any less?

How do you interpret “bloom where you’re planted?” Do you feel like it gets used out of context / misunderstood far too often, too?

Original photo of Business Lady Thinking by maya picture from freedigitalphotos.net. Adapted by Stephanie Oh.

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7 comments

  1. You’re right that no one should treat popular phrases like scripture, even if they’re based on scriptural principles. Then God’s word can end up distorted, which is one of Satan’s favorite tactics. And we certainly have freedom in Christ. But I think the main thing to consider when you think about Abraham, Paul and other Christians on the move is that they moved for the explicit purpose of advancing God’s kingdom, according to leading they sought carefully from the Lord. (Acts 16:6-9 is a great example of this.) So many Christians uproot their families and move to another city because they’re chasing a more lucrative job (often because they’re trying to fund a materialistic lifestyle rather than living simply), and in the process they sever their ties to Christian community with no guarantee of finding vital body life in the new location. This can happen even without moving, when people accept a promotion and take on a 60-hour work week, effectively killing any chance of deep involvement in Christian community. It’s hard to develop real depth in loving friendships when people are constantly changing location or are simply unavailable to spend quality time with their church. Loving people like Jesus did involves real commitment to people, so breaking off close relationships shouldn’t be considered lightly. I think James 4:13-17 has to be considered here, where James calls believers to let God guide their career moves and travel plans and let the Lord decide. It’s not that we should never change our circumstances, but that we should consider the motives for changing those circumstances and how those changes will strengthen or inhibit our ability to win the lost, raise up disciples and take part in radical community.

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    1. Hi Chris! Thanks for visiting our blog, and I hope you’re doing well! I love what you have to say and couldn’t agree more. Our next post in this series (hopefully in a week or two when I’m done with it) is actually about considering ways in which we misuse scripture to justify personal ambition, anxiety, or greed in our careers when our focus should be on advancing the Kingdom. So you’re totally speaking our language right now. 😉

      And thanks for mentioning James 4 and Acts 16. Yes, when Steph and I were chatting about this we wanted the purpose of this conversation to be to stop and ask ourselves, where are we following Christian “culture” instead of Christ Himself.

      What I love about the each of the examples above in Matthew, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, or modern day missionaries is that each of these requires saying “yes” when God says move. I don’t know that we’re all called to move or even move as often as we Americans do, but as someone who’s personally struggled with this when I hear God say “go” and others say “no, bloom where you’re planted,” I like the look at what Scripture actually says about it and the reminder that the ultimate authority on where we should bloom is God and not man.

      Thanks again for contributing so much! Love this conversation!

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    2. Chris, love your thoughts! Thanks so much for joining the conversation! I’m not advocating breaking off relationships flippantly or leaving Christian community at all, which is why I tried to emphasize loving our neighbors, being light and salt, and making disciples as the tenets we should be following throughout the post.

      And when I refer to missed opportunities in this post I’m in no way referring to promotions / raises / American-dream-centered opportunities. That doesn’t interest me: http://wearegospelgirls.com/2013/04/09/diagnosis-divine-discontent/
      I guess to me it was so obvs that I didn’t bother clarifying it, so it’s valid that you could have interpreted it that way and I’ll add an update to the post.

      What I wanted to address here was real opportunities for growth, as Christians. I know way too many women who are afraid of stepping out and seizing these opportunities because it might mean they aren’t “blooming where planted” – as if growing, or moving on in a loving way, might be sinful because it might mean they aren’t grateful enough for where they are now. Maybe this kind of thought process affects women more than men.

      Anyway, I continue to feel that Christianese phrases like “bloom where you’re planted” are way too easily misconstrued, and when people emphasize the planted part over the blooming it can lead to us making decisions (or not making decisions!) out of fear rather than faith. That’s why I think we should stick to scripture to understand our callings more than cute catchphrases. Loving, serving, being light and salt, sharing the gospel matter much more than the where of it all, I imagine.

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  2. A friend of mine just blogged about the same thing… taking Christianese and spouting it as Bible truth. It’s a great way to seriously mess people up, isn’t it?

    One thing about this phrase and the words in it: Psalm 1 talks about being like a planted tree.

    Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
    or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
    but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
    That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
    and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

    I don’t think it’s technically wrong to say we are to bloom where we’re planted. We just need to actually understand where we are planted. As you said, a lot of people get it twisted into thinking they’re stuck being planted in one location. Instead, we should plant ourselves in God’s word and produce fruit there… Wherever that takes us!

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    1. Wanda – Psalm 1 is such a great verse to reference! Totally agree with you, I read Scripture as saying we should be planted in (rooted in) God’s word.
      Obvs that’s not to say we’re never asked to be in a certain place at a certain time (although I personally believe it’s more about what we do than where we are), but overall I think this phrase has been misinterpreted with an uncomfortable emphasis on staying put.

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  3. I think that I’ve used “bloom where you’re planted” as an excuse, for sure. It’s a lot easier to say that than to seek God and ask Him what He wants. That is hard and takes a long time, and is rarely efficient. Sometimes, I need to move, and sometimes stay. There is no Biblical revelation or piece of wisdom that can substitute for the voice of God.
    Love this!

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