“Wow, I didn’t know palm trees were that small!” Approaching the palm tree soaking up sun from atop the bedside table, my best friend marveled at the fact that it was approximately a foot and a half tall.
The thing is, they’re not supposed to be that small. I bought myself Paul (the PAULm tree — no explicit relation to the apostle) a year and a half ago as a bribe to get through post-COVID finals period, but I have not re-potted him a single time. As much as I like the idea of owning a full size palm tree, my not-so-spacious double does not exactly offer a great habitat for such a plant. So Paul lives in his easily portable, easily placeable little container and occupies a small, though joyous, corner of my dorm.
This space management does not work out so nicely when applied to faith, but we certainly do apply it there. Those who grew up in church have likely heard the phrase “faith like a mustard seed” countless times as an inspiration in uncertain times. Though it should be an inspiration, it often leads to the idea of a containable God who does not require our complete trust. Often, God can become one small character on the overcrowded storyboard of my life. I relegate Him to a small, though joyous, corner of my consciousness and do not allow Him to influence the rest of my life, yet I am taken aback when I do not see His work in those partitioned-off areas.
What I forget is that a mustard seed cannot grow without space. I expect the goodness of God to overtake my life but refuse to lose control of any of it. In choosing to keep Him compartmentalized, I am not reducing His power at all, but am choosing to see it only in the space we give it. In the same way that Paul (again, tree not apostle) could grow to be the size of my room only if I allowed it to, the power of God will inform our lives only if we allow it to. The pressure of life, especially on an Ivy League campus, to be successful, productive, and in control makes it immensely difficult to surrender our lives to God in their entirety. Instead, I carve out Sunday morning for church, Wednesday night for Bible study, Friday night for fellowship events, maybe a couple of minutes every day to read the Bible and/or pray, and then call it good.
But if we allow God to control only the portions of our life that we are not worried will affect our future, are we really placing any faith in him at all? We are called to “trust in the Lord with all [our] hearts, and lean not on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6), which would take a lot of stretching to become “trust in the Lord on Sunday morning, and girlboss your way through the week.” The thought of losing the feeble control we have is certainly terrifying, but we are promised that “all these things will be added to [us]” if we “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 7:21). Though we cannot be sure that the success of the world will be added to us in the way we expect, we can be confident that eternal success, and the necessary things of this world, will be added to us in the way God knows is best. Seeking God first, allowing our mustard seed of faith to grow throughout our lives, affords the most space to this purpose, namely eternal life and kingdom growth.
Emma Kate Price is a first-year at Harvard studying Mechanical Engineering and Astrophysics.