Last week I deep cleaned my family room. My goal was to conquer the clutter. On top of the bookshelves was a stringy, ungainly plant whose eight foot runners spread over the top of the shelves and tumbled down the sides. Its leaves were small, some yellowed, many dried and brown. It was ugly and it definitely looked like clutter to me.
I took it down tediously gathering in all its runners and placed it in a heap on my kitchen counter. With my hands on my hips, I stared at the plant and heaved a deep sigh. What to do with it? I didn’t want it in my space anymore and my inclination was to throw it in the garbage. A pang of guilt stabbed at my conscience as I remembered the sporadic care I had given this plant. I was so busy with my large family that I only watered it when I noticed it was wilted. Given the neglect, how had it grown as much as it had? What might it have become had I taken better care of it? Oh well. It was just one too many things needing my attention. The garbage was an easy fix. Just then, my son’s cello teacher came to teach her afternoon students.
“Hey! Do you know anything about plants?” I asked her. She said she did and so I showed her my plant in its sad state piled on my kitchen counter.
“Oh, you just cut them back,” she told me. “Just take your scissors and cut the stems way back. In fact, you can cut most of these off.”
It was worth a try so I started cutting, but I had no clue what I was doing. I snipped and trimmed until there was a large heap of stems in the garbage can. Then the plant and I regarded one another. What a sorry looking thing it was. Had I been kind or spiteful? I placed the sheared plant on the table and watered it generously. Over the next two days, I observed it curiously to see what would happen. It appeared shriveled and shrunken and I wondered if the plant’s destiny was still the dumpster. But on the third day I was amazed to find a change. The plant had somehow taken on a new look that was alive and vibrant. In just three days it had regrouped, reshaped, and filled in. Where its leaves had been small and yellowed before, they were now large and deep green. Today, one week after the cutting back, my plant is a beautiful addition to my now uncluttered family room. It has become my friend and my teacher and I delight in caring for it. In fact, I’ve decided it needs a beautiful pot to replace the drab green plastic one it came in. So caught up in the busy of my life, I had never noticed the pot it was living in. A beautiful plant is worthy of a colorful pot.
Genius simply cannot grow when our energy and focus is scattered with so many scraggly and ill-fed runners. Rather than beauty, we create clutter when we spread ourselves thinly between countless activities. The long and the short of it is simply this: our drive to be more and do more actually threatens to exterminate our God-given genius. Who we are meant to be grows when we cut back, prune the over-extended runners from our lives, and live from our roots. My plant taught me this. I’m taking the scissors to my life now. Cutting back is a principle that grows genius.