About four weeks ago, my friend Brian pulled up outside our house unexpectedly and dropped off a bag of dirt. Poking out of the top was a plantain tree. He left it at the end of our driveway, and we had a brief social-distancing conversation before we waved, and he went on his way.
John and our boys carefully picked a spot in the yard and dug a hole for the tree.
After that, we watched it…just…be. It didn’t change at all. As we took walks through the neighborhood, we saw other plantain trees that were growing tall, with their large green leaves spreading out from the trunk.
But our tree just stayed as it was, a brown stalk sticking out of the ground.
I checked in with Brian to see how his plantain trees were doing, and he described how they were thriving and growing tall, just as they do every year.
Ours just wouldn’t grow. I have to admit, I didn’t have much hope for it. I mean, everyone else’s plantain trees seemed to be taller than my children. And ours didn’t even look like a tree. It was just a dry-looking shoot coming out of the dirt.
Then one day this week John was surprised to see some green shoots pushing out of the top of the stalk. Today we realized that there was enough green that someone—rabbit, squirrel, or deer—nibbled on it overnight. John went out to put mesh fencing around it to protect it from the neighborhood wildlife.
So, here we are, the proud owners of a tree that seems to be growing after all. Will it ever produce plantains? We don’t know. But it’s beautiful just to see that this little-tree-that-could is living and pushing new growth up toward the sun.
And, it brings with it a small reminder to hold onto hope—even when it might seem easier to give up.
As we wake up each day to a pandemic and an economic crisis and the realities of systemic racism and whatever personal burdens we might be carrying, it can be difficult to see that something might be growing or changing for the better. But maybe in this moment we can find some peace in trusting that God is at work in unseen ways. And, maybe if we keep watering and letting the sun nurture it and keeping the wildlife away, the tree will have a chance to thrive.
There are no easy answers. But we each have a role to play. I’m still trying to discern what mine is, and maybe you’re still trying to figure out yours. For now, I am trying to listen and learn and read and pray.
Meanwhile, in my backyard, our plantain tree is reminding me of these words of John Cardinal Dearden that are often attributed to Oscar Romero:
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
P.S. If you haven’t read this piece, “The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it,” written by Father Bryan Massingale, it’s well worth your time.