“Are you thriving or surviving?”
This was a question recently posed as an icebreaker in a team meeting at work a few weeks ago. It sounds like a simple question, but I really had to think about it as the answers made their way around the room. My immediate gut response was to quickly proclaim, “Surviving! I’m merely surviving!” When exhausted, in the throes of COVID, overextended at work and at home, and experiencing some painful things personally, the answer actually seemed quite simple.
Or was it?
I walked away from that meeting continuing to ponder the question as it echoed over and over in my head. Why couldn’t I shake it? Perhaps because it was the first time in months that I had stopped to think about my state of being. For some, this pandemic time has been opportunistic – a time to slow down and reset, get back to basics, and focus on what is really important. For others, it has been a hard time, filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and loss. For our family, it has been a bit of the latter thrown into a complete whirlwind. So, while in the moment, my answer was simply stated, “I’m surviving here, folks, just surviving.” I was not sure what I was, but boy, thriving sounded pretty good.
So naturally, being the over-processor I am, I started pontificating. Was I really just surviving? What would it look like to be thriving? I desperately wanted to be thriving!
Merriam Webster defines THRIVE as follows:
- to grow vigorously : FLOURISH
- to gain in wealth or possessions : PROSPER
- to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances
Reflecting on the answers in the boardroom that day, the answers were quite circumstantial. Things going well equated to “yes, I’m thriving.” Things not quite going quite well meant that many of us were responding with, “I’m surviving.” My favorite part of the definition above is “to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances.” So, if that is thriving, I think I was indeed thriving.
Many of us have been thriving without realizing it.
We have all been through it this year. I realize that some of us have been downright wrecked. But as God promises, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) And Jesus also assures us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) We are each faced with two choices right now. We can lean into that truth with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37), or we can go into survival mode with the hope that circumstances around us will get easier.
I don’t know about you, but for me, circumstances haven’t really been too great, and I’m not too inclined to put much hope in them these days, or ever really. Because if there is one thing that this pandemic has assured us of, it is that we do not always have control over our circumstances. And God has assured me time and time again not to put my hope in the world, but rather, in Jesus. (Psalm 118:8)
Did you know that trees need storms? They need wind to blow hard against them – which in turn causes their root systems to grow deeper into the soil, which in turn supports the tree as it grows taller. We are so much like trees, and the winds this past year have been hurricane-force winds. And it takes not only those roots growing deeper to thrive, but also great care above the soil. It takes work and intentionality to continue to thrive. I just had a conversation with a friend today about thriving in the mundane. After being asked by several people lately, how I am doing after some dust has settled on a very trying time, I started thoughtfully reflecting on my contentment (okay, and the fact that I am still standing!) I came to realize that my time experiencing gale force winds actually instilled some natural rhythms that have enabled me to continue to thrive. So what have I been doing?
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. – John 16:2
Anyone who knows plants well, knows that to grow pruning is needed. Pruning can be super painful and hard, or remarkably easy. It involves removing unhealthy habits, saying no to something or someone, and giving yourself space. For me, this has in some ways been an easy exercise, because as some things were naturally pruned away in 2020, they will not be welcomed back! And it has also helped me to take inventory on where I do spend my time and what fruit comes of that.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7
Trees need sunlight to grow. We all need a good dose of Vitamin D to be well. Any dark spaces we are neglecting are simply growing fungi on the tree. For me, bringing struggles into the light takes the power away from them. And vulnerability with others breeds deeper relationships.
Taking in water.
But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. – John 4:14
Being consistently in God’s word has hands down been the BEST thing I have done to get through struggles in this life. Every single time. And when I am at a loss for His word, I literally do Google and Bible searches to find out what God says about a certain topic, struggle, etc. He will sustain.
Keeping fertile soil.
But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word with a good and virtuous heart, and hold it firmly, and produce fruit with perseverance. – Luke 8:15.
I have candid conversations with people I trust about the condition of my heart. I want to always be planted in fertile soil, ready for what God has for me. That takes abiding and accountability.
That day in the boardroom, I so desperately wanted declare that I was thriving. I was so focused on the pain and not the growth. But how much more fruitful to focus on the pruning, getting light, getting water, checking the soil – as we are promised that we will prosper when we abide in Him! “They shall prosper that love you” (Psalm 122:6.)
The following Psalm was shared among some close friends several months ago. May we all be blessed and thrive, despite the circumstances we are in.
Blessed is the onePsalm 1:1-3
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.
Lord, thank You for Your Word and Your promises, which above all, enable us to thrive despite whatever storms and chaos swirl around us. Father I am in awe that You care for each one of us as a gardener who tends to His garden. While storms this year have been painful, I am so grateful that You use storms strengthen us, and I pray that we not only bear fruit as a result, but that the fruit is abundant. In Your Holy Name I pray, Amen.