When my wife and I were first married, we lived in a tiny, old cottage in Redondo Beach, California. We painted the house, put in a lawn, and planted flowers. The soil was rich and loamy, and everything we planted flourished.
We assumed it was because we were such good gardeners.
Two years later, we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. We moved into a new home in the desert and assumed our gardening skills would transfer there. But the clay soil was like concrete. I had to buy a pick just to break up the ground enough to plant snapdragons (they died).
Our intentions were good, but we knew nothing about growing things in the desert.
We needed help.
“Citrus,” the nurseryman said, “grows great in Arizona.” So we bought an orange tree, a lemon tree, and a grapefruit tree. We dug the holes, added the mulch and nutrients, and planted the trees. We watered them and waited, anticipating the day when we would serve fresh-picked fruit to friends on our patio for breakfast.
The trees grew well, but there wasn’t any fruit. The same thing happened the next year. We had lush foliage but nothing to show for all our work. So we went back to the nursery for advice.
“Time,” the nurseryman said. “It can take three years for fruit to appear on newly planted citrus trees in Arizona.” That wasn’t the answer I was hoping for, but it gave me hope. That second year, we had one small orange, a couple of anorexic lemons, and one Texas-sized grapefruit. But the third year, the sweet smell of citrus blossoms gave way to dozens of fruit on each tree.
During those initial years, I really wanted the fruit and it was hard to wait. I could have gone to the grocery store and purchased a bag of oranges, a bag of lemons, some grapefruit, and a roll of tape, and just taped the fruit onto the trees. Then I could honestly say there was fruit on my trees.
But I would be rushing the end result, which would have defeated the purpose of the tree.
Trees aren’t supposed to display fruit; they’re supposed to produce it.
As much as I wanted to see results, I knew that I had to wait. The tree had to become healthy and mature before it could produce the fruit, and that takes time.
That’s true in our relationships as well. We would love to see people “shape up” and fix the problems in their lives right away. But it takes time for real change to take place, if it happens at all.
To keep from being emotionally trapped and frustrated by other people’s lack of progress, we need to accept the reality that growth and healing often take time.
Comedian Bob Newhart once did a classic routine where he played the part of a psychologist. Every time the woman in his office began describing her symptoms and phobias, Newhart would yell, “Stop it!” That was his solution to every problem: “Just stop it!”
We love watching that in a comedy routine, but it’s probably because we recognize that tendency in our own lives. We see someone trapped in a behavior that’s causing pain for themselves and everyone around them, and we think, “Why can’t they just see what they’re doing and STOP IT?”
But we also know from personal experience that it’s almost impossible to just stop something that has been a pattern in our lives for years. Once a pattern has taken root in our lives, it’s like yanking a fifty-year-old oak tree out of the ground. It’s possible, but it takes time and usually involves dealing with one root at a time.
Got someone in your life that bugs you, and you just wish they could get their act together?
Give ‘em time. Give ‘em grace. Don’t let your happiness depend on them changing, because there’s a good chance it won’t happen.
Instead, work on changing the one person you have control over:
Give yourself time. Give yourself grace.
Work on the inside, and the outside will take care of itself.