Grow Strong Again: Rooted in the Root of Jesse
But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
But he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
together their young shall lie down;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the viper’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
On that day,
The root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the peoples—
Him the nations will seek out;
his dwelling shall be glorious.
The world needs us to pay attention to the Holy Spirit.
We are baptized; therefore, we are called and chosen by God to breathe new life into a world that is dying from atheism, violence, apathy, depression, and narcissism.
Our tendency is to believe that vocation is exclusive to our state in life. If we are married, then we remain rooted in our marital call (true). If we are religious, we stay within the parameters of that calling (also true). If single, we are chaste and devote ourselves to whatever professional, ministerial, or volunteer work that makes us come alive (again, true).
But personal vocation involves the way we live today. It means our state in life informs our personal call to holiness, but it is not exclusive to defining our sanctification. It means we are moving toward God – always – and that we surrender who we once were, while also leaning into who we are becoming. There is freedom in letting go of our need to control our lives, in the desperation we often feel in pursuing the elusive will of God, and in certainty.
The Holy Spirit does not operate in certainty. Or familiarity. Or comfort. Or control.
Instead, the Holy Spirit needs us to give Him room to move in us, through us, around us. The only way the world will change is if we give Him the freedom to work in our lives without restriction or suffocation.
This time of year, we meditate on the Person of Jesus as the Light of the World. We often pray for world peace, inner serenity, an end to war and division. But we do not often consider how we might be called to bring the Light of the World into the world He created. We are meant to co-create with the Creator Himself.
Becoming a Christ-bearer is the mission of every Christian. It is the way we are each meant to imitate St. John the Baptist, who first heralded the coming of the Savior. Sometimes, though, we get caught up with (and maybe even discouraged by) focusing on how we can become saints, rather than finding inspiration from their heroic virtue. We tend to grow up with the romantic version of their martyrdom or mystical visions or voluntary poverty. And we think we must do exactly the same.
What we often fail to recognize is that God has made us for this time. Remember the book of Esther (4:14) that concludes, “for such a time as this”? Her mission was specific to the era and position and status into which she was born. The same is true for each one of us. We can only begin to understand how to allow the Holy Spirit to freely and gratuitously use us when we recognize that we each are meant for a specific purpose and to do what only each of us can do.
I cannot do your work. You cannot do mine. My path to sainthood is not yours, and vice versa. We can look to the saints to encourage us, but we cannot become them. We are not meant to.
If we consider that this time of year is when we think anew about all things – birth, not death; light, not darkness; beginnings, not endings – then we might begin to see ourselves and our unique spiritual calling this way, too.
We’re not meant to wait around for God to do something big in order for this hurting world to start healing. Sometimes He does that, and we can rejoice when this happens. But more often than not, His desire is to use you – right here, right now – to accomplish what is most deeply moving your heart. My spiritual director often tells me, “What breaks your heart also breaks the heart of God.”
What is burning in your heart? What do you most desire to do in this life? What brings you the greatest joy? What are your gifts? Your personality? All of these contribute to the beautiful gift that you are in this world, the ways you are meant to give birth to Christ in an entirely new, and possibly radical, way.
Spiritual growth involves moving away from something in order to move toward something greater – Someone greater. The beginning of the passage from Isaiah 11 offers us an image of a root sprouting from a stump of a tree, and that sprout blossoms into a bud, a sapling or sprig of new life. This is, of course, a metaphor for Jesus, but it is also meant for us so that we can more fully participate in bringing Jesus to this very wounded world in which we live.
When I married my husband over fifteen years ago, we used his Scottish clan motto for our invitations. It was the image of a tree that had been hacked to its stump with a tiny sapling growing from its midst and the words “Reviresco,” which loosely translates into “I grow strong again.”
What is God asking of you as you shed certain parts of what no longer serves you, or Him, or the world? That is how you are being pruned. You may think you will become nothing more than a stump and that your life’s work has been wasted if it feels as if it is being destroyed. But I promise you that if you are living a life rooted in an intimate relationship with God, it will not destroy you.
Instead, it will be the greater part of you emerging – the stronger part – that can speak into the world using the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed on you.
You are gifted. Yes, you. And this means that you are not meant to squander what you have been given. Be generous. Reflect the goodness of the God you know and love. Be tender, like the Christ-child, when someone is suffering. Exhibit fortitude when you face temptation or adversaries of darkness. Practice retreating into the desert of solitude so that you can hear the Lord whisper to your heart.
But whatever you do, persevere in what you can do today. God does not waste anything that we give Him. This Christmas, your gift can be yourself, your poverty of spirit, your nothingness, your misery, your anxiety, your uncertainty, your darkness. But whatever it is, give it to Him – and He will make you grow strong again.