Miracle Max and the Practice of Self-Care

Miracle Max: It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: What’s that?

Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

I thought of this quote from The Princess Bride while weeding around the rose bush in front of my house. A month ago, the bush was mostly dead. I had neglected to water it sufficiently during a particularly hot week when the temperatures neared 100°F, and most of the leaves withered and turned brown. I realized my mistake and (apologetically) began watering it almost every night. A few weeks later, I saw new leaves begin to form. And then a bud. And another. And now the bush is in full bloom with bright pink roses. A month ago, the bush was mostly dead—or rather, slightly alive. And slightly alive means there’s still time for Miracle Max to do his work.

The rose bush and a few other plants needed extra care for revitalization, and I have had to learn more about plants in order to care for them properly. In the process, I have learned about caring for myself. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from my adventures in gardening:

1. Change with your circumstances. The rose bush I bought advertised itself as easy maintenance and came with instructions to water it once a week. I followed the instructions but didn’t think to depart from the standard and water it more than once a week when the weather got hotter and the temperatures consistently reached the upper 90s. In the heat, the plant wasn’t receiving as much hydration as it needed for its systems to function properly. The leaves turned brown, starting at the tips and slowly creeping toward the stem until the whole leaf withered and fell. We risk a similar burnout when we do not care for ourselves adequately during times of additional stress. What may typically be “enough” can be far from sufficient under different and more difficult circumstances. For example, this summer has been especially busy at my office, and while I am usually content to eat lunch at my desk, I have had to be more intentional about taking an actual lunch break. I need the time away from my computer and outside the office to get some mental rest and regain the energy I need to return to my work and do it well. A walk outside was a necessary departure from the standard. For others, this adjustment might look like an earlier bedtime to give rest to a tired body or more time with God to revive a weary spirit.

2. Cut away what is dead. When caring for an orchid, it is important to cut down the bud spike (the stem on which the flowers bloom) after the buds fall off. Otherwise, the plant will continue sending nutrients to the empty stem when it could be redirecting that energy to growing new leaves or roots. Or as Jesus says in John 15:2, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Likewise, it is important to cut away from our lives what is taking energy but not producing fruit; it is only stealing from areas where growth is waiting to occur. Perhaps this dead branch is a toxic relationship or yet another activity to which you have committed your last hour of free time. If you are like me, saying “no” is a learned skill but one that is necessary in order to dedicate our time and energy to the areas that are developing fruit.

3. Continue nourishing what is alive. My orchid has been pretty sad looking recently and was thought to be “all dead.” When I sent a picture of the plant to the company that sold the orchid, they told me it had been dead for quite some time. The plant was only “mostly dead,” though. It had been growing new roots before the leaves started to dry up, so something was happening. I trimmed the dry bud spike down even further and cut the leaves back to where it was still a vibrant green. And I kept watering the plant. I recently took a closer look at the plant and discovered new growth developing at the base of the orchid. I’m not sure if this is a new bud spike or a new leaf forming, but it’s a sign of life. In a broader sense, it may be an easy solution to throw everything away and start over when something seems “all dead,” but nourishing what is still alive—investing your energy into what works and what is eager to receive your efforts—eventually reveals growth and new life.

Ever since I started caring for the new plants at my house, others have claimed I am a “green thumb,” but I am just a first-time gardener learning as I go along and trying to keep plants alive. (There are plants that have not been as fortunate as the rose bush and orchid.) In the same sense, I am also still learning to care for myself and understand what it takes to experience growth and new life.