My life is an enormous metaphor. The more I’ve learned about myself, especially through the lens of the Enneagram, the better I have understood that not everyone ascribes meaning to elements of life in the same way that I do. There are occasions that I read into situations and find meaning where there isn’t any, but there are others where the insight is immeasurably useful and helps me to understand important things. I truly believe that metaphor is one of the ways that God speaks to me.
My morning routine has involved coffee, journaling and prayer my entire adult life. In fact, my preferred perch in our living room is made plain by the permanent indent on our sofa. I’ve tried to move around so as not to permanently imprint my bottom on that one cushion, but it just doesn’t feel right.
Often, I begin with a self-assessment of how I am entering the day: How did I sleep? How do I feel? What lies ahead today? What am I thankful for? All of this can be thought or written. Next I’ll read a small devotion or chapter to focus my thoughts (my all time faves are Jesus Calling, My Utmost for his Highest and anything by Shauna Niequist). Then, I’ll sit quietly with my eyes closed, asking God what he has to say. It is typically during this intentional quiet or meditation that I sense what he is speaking. As I mentioned above, it is common for him to communicate with me through images and metaphors.
On one such morning, my thoughts were drawn to the African violet sitting on my coffee table, right beside my crossed feet. It was massive. I had never done never anything special for it—and yes, I know that African Violets like to soak up water through their roots (holy, high maintenance!)—but I’d always just dumped it on top. Because I cannot be bothered. (Side note: I love plants and green things, but I’ve adopted a rather Darwinian stance toward the plants in my house. This is what you get. Deal or don’t deal. Survival of the fittest, baby). In spite of the standardized treatment, this hardy violet was perpetually covered in beautiful, bright purple flowers.
That morning, on closer observation, however, I realized that sections of the flowers were dead. They stood upright among the viable blooms, looking very much alive and purple, but they were dried out.
I was suddenly overcome with an intense compulsion to pick off the dead flowers; a crisis situation that felt bigger than dead flowers on a plant. Deadness in the form of bloom and leaf was draining energy from the parts that were alive! The initial early-morning task became a rampage throughout my entire house (yes, I’m a little weird). With a grocery-store bag in hand, I attended to every plant in my home, removing dry blooms and dead leaves. It took ages and made a mess, but in the end, I felt like I’d accomplished something tremendously healthy for my plants. And, strangely, also for myself.
Deadhead is a term that refers not only to the appreciators of Jerry Garcia (of whom I was one), but to the removal of faded or dead flowers from plants. It’s generally done both to maintain a plant’s appearance and to increase its overall health and performance.
Deadheading is tedious, but important work. Most flowers lose their allure as they fade, diminishing the overall appearance of a garden or individual plant. As flowers shed their petals and begin to form seed heads, energy is focused into the development of the seeds, rather than the flowers. Regular deadheading, however, re-directs the energy into the flowers, producing healthier plants and sustained blooming.
Deadheading can feel like a never-ending chore. It can also feel like your plant looks a little less full and alive once you’ve removed the deadness, because sometimes, as in the case of my African violet, the faux blooms still looked alive. They were pretty and gave the illusion of a full, healthy plant. But they were dried and dead. Not alive. Sometimes it’s hard to get rid of the blooms that seem alive.
Some things, in my humble opinion, ARE actually better faux. I regularly sport a “genuine pleather” jacket that is my absolute fave. My closet houses A LOT of faux fur and there are giant faux-wolf throw pillows in my living room. Some things are better faux, but others are not. You are not good faux. Your life is not good faux.
Applying this measure of thought to my own life, I began asking questions. What looks like the real thing, but is not the real thing? What seems alive, but is perhaps dried and dead? What is diverting energy away from the living parts? What do I need to deadhead?
On the simplest level, deadheading may need to happen in the form of purging excess from our homes; dealing with physical clutter and donating our extras.
Maybe deadheading means simplifying our schedules? Determining what parts need to stay and then getting ruthless with the optional items: what used to be good, but has now begun to deplete precious energy? What needs to go?
Is there a relationship that needs to go? This one is challenging, for we remember how beautiful these blooms once were. And if we squint, they can still seem alive, even though, in honesty, we know their season has passed.
What about those experiences in our personal histories that harass us over and over, diverting life—peace, joy, contentment, security, self-worth—away from the richness and health of our now life? We’re usually aware of the things that continue to grip us; things like childhood hurts that never fully healed; the pain of rejection; broken relationships; the residual fear or poverty mentality from a season of lack; the inability to forgive.
For some of us, there may even be a deeply hidden fear that if we remove dead blooms, there will be nothing left. That could happen. At least for a period of time. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a few vibrant blooms than many dried, dead blooms.
The thing about deadheading is that we can never check it off our list permanently (which I hate…I like doing jobs once). It’s a practice that must be undertaken regularly if we want to be strong and healthy; blooming continually in season. If we haven’t been in the habit of deadheading our lives, at first it may feel like a massive undertaking. But as it becomes part of our regular routine, a quick scan and an occasional pluck are all that are required.
Take some time to observe your life. Give attention to your soul. What is pretending to be alive, but is no longer alive? Ask God to show you what is no longer life-giving for you. Then do the work. Your vibrant, alive parts will reap the benefit. Your authentic self will thank you.
“The purpose of pruning is to improve the quality of the roses, not to hurt the bush.” ~ Florence Littauer