In early summer, I purchased some impatiens to plant around my perennials in my “kidney” garden. (It’s in the shape of a kidney!) I had a few left over and thought, Why don’t I bring these inside? I’ll put them in a protected space above my sink where they will get plenty of light and won’t be hindered by the drastic changes in weather outside!
May, June, July went by. The plants looked healthy enough but they rarely got new leaves and never bloomed. I even planted them with fertilizer and fresh potting mix. So, I got the bright idea of putting them outside on our patio table. (No more protection for you, I thought…)
During the time they were outside, they weathered wind, hail, sprinkles, torrential rain, cool nights, bugs, multiple “twirly-whirlys” from the maple tree above, some full shade, some full sun, high humidity, low humidity and who knows what else. My husband kept them watered.
About two weeks after I placed them outside, new leaves began to sprout--at first just a few and then massively! I was surprised. Duly noted, I said to myself as I passed the table on my way to the office behind the garage.
Another week passed and tiny blossoms like mouse ears began to appear. At first they looked like they would be all white, and I thought, Ah-ha! I knew something would be wrong after all of the elements these plants had endured.
The following week, I noticed one pink bloom opening up, and by the end of the week, all three plants were loaded with blossoms! How could this happen? I so faithfully watered and protected them in the house, turning each one toward the sun streaming through the windows.
For some reason, I began thinking about the Wizard of Oz: “How about a little fire scarecrow…” the wicked witch threatened. As the scarecrow began to experience more and more dilemmas and threats, he grew in wisdom and discovered that he had a brain after all.
As the mother of two sons, I remember that I tried so deliberately to protect them from the wrong kind of input, thinking I was doing them a favor. Yes, there are times when removing the threats to a child’s well-being is exactly what must be done! But, I think that sometimes we think that protecting our children will keep them safe and cause them to grow in the right direction. We feed them, turn them toward light instead of darkness and try to anticipate every need.
But what does it take for a boy to become a man? A mother who finally backs off and allows her sons to experience the highs and lows of life, sometimes being battered by the “wind,” sometimes facing the “heat” and then the “chill'' of being alone. We might continue to “water” them with prayers and blessings, but they need to face the world on their own in order to leaf out and finally bloom.
Is there someone in your life you are trying to protect? Maybe even yourself? COVID caused many of us who are introverts to pull in and luxuriate in the absence of perfunctory social skills that we needed when being with others. But then the time finally came when we had to decide to re-enter the world…or not.
The world we re-entered, if we chose to do so, seemed less kind, more hostile and on some days, downright ugly. But how would we develop or redevelop the skills to navigate the hostilities if we never exposed ourselves to the world? How would we learn how to love people again if we hid away from them? And instead of reacting unkindly to those who are unkind, how would we learn to overlook hostility and learn to listen again to the hurting world, loving the people in it just the way they are?
If we choose to not protect ourselves (or those we love), we give ourselves (and them) the opportunity to learn resiliency, strength, courage and wisdom like the scarecrow.
On Dr. Debbie Sorensen’s website, https://www.drdebbiesorensen.com/blogposts/personal-growth-adversity-reflections, she lists five areas of growth that can be experienced through adversity.
Increased sense of personal strength. (Y)ou may have been surprised at your own ability to handle big, unexpected problems. You may have discovered psychological resources you didn’t even know you had, like resourcefulness or an ability to cope with intense emotions.
Closer, more meaningful relationships. Sometimes we can build closer and more meaningful relationships during times of adversity. While some relationships may have suffered or faded during the pandemic, others may have grown even closer. You may have been surprised by unexpected support or by increased gratitude for the people in your life.
Increased appreciation for life. Loss, or even the threat of potential loss, can help us see how precious life can be. The pandemic has reminded us of our own mortality, which we sometimes conveniently forget. In the grand scheme of things, our time to be alive is brief, and the perspective shift brought about by adversity can remind us of our most deeply held values and priorities.
Identification of new possibilities and a new life path. As priorities change, new possibilities might open up that we had never previously considered. We may think about how we’ve been using our time and reconsider the path we’ve been on. We may open up to new possibilities for our lives and make changes we might not have considered without adversity.
Spiritual/existential growth. In “normal” day-to-day life, we can easily lose touch with higher purpose. Adversity can spark a reevaluation of meaning, and a better understanding of what is truly important. A recent study of personal growth during COVID (Kim et al. 2021) found that self-transcendent wisdom and perceived meaning in life were associated with higher well-being. Whether you are religious or not, adversity can prompt you to engage in fundamental existential or spiritual questions, and this process of engagement can be a source of growth.
Read the rest of her article. It’s very helpful!
Don’t be afraid to live in the ebb and flow of life or allow others to do so. You (and they) can develop resiliency and bloom shamelessly!