It wasn’t until high school that I began to notice my mom would repeat a proverbial phrase in response to my anxious musings about the future. “Bloom where you’re planted,” she would quip, as I fretted about what I should do with my life.
I wasn’t a Christian at the time, and I was in the thick of my teenage years, so these sayings—she had a host of others—would, to borrow another idiom, float in one ear and out the other. What hath horticulture to do with a young man’s concern over his future?
When I trusted Christ during my sophomore year of college, my passion for the Scriptures turned insatiable. I desired to know the truth and discuss it with others. My parents were already Christians, so it was natural that our conversations often turned to the Bible. Sometime after my conversion, I was talking with my parents, probably pondering the future, when Mom again unearthed her agricultural wisdom: “Bloom where you’re planted.” But this time she added, “Where is that in the Bible?”
It sounds biblical, doesn’t it? The Bible is replete with agrarian references and illustrations, and there’s something about the prima facie wisdom of the phrase the makes it sound like it fell straight from the lips of Solomon or Jesus.
Catchy Colloquial Phrase
The problem, of course, is that there is no such phrase in your Bible. Pull out your concordance, open your Bible-search program, scour the Proverbs and the Gospels—you won’t find “bloom where you’re planted.” The law and prophets won’t help you; neither will Paul, Peter, James, or Jude. The phrase is simply not there.
Many colloquial phrases get tossed around that are often mistaken as biblical statements. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is one with which you might be familiar. It’s not in the Bible. The famed “Footprints” poem isn’t either. How about “Cleanliness is next to godliness”? Nope. “God moves in mysterious ways”? He does, but that sentence is nowhere in Scripture.
As we grow in our walk with Christ, we should desire to know our Bibles so well that we’re able to spot biblical-sounding statements that aren’t in the Bible. This is a matter of basic discernment and the responsibility of every Christian.
But our task doesn’t stop here.
We should desire to know our Bibles so well that we’re able to spot biblical-sounding statements that aren’t in the Bible.
In the case of “bloom where you are planted,” it’s not enough to object, “That’s not in the Bible!” We should bring the whole teaching of Scripture to bear not only on the words of a phrase, but also on its meaning. This practice honors Paul’s admonition, “Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9; cf. 1 Thess. 5:21–22). In other words, ask what’s true about a statement—and what’s false.
What Does It Mean?
So what does “bloom where you’re planted” mean? While I can’t speak for all believers who use it, the likeliest meaning is, “Be content where God has placed you in life and make the most of your opportunity.” If that’s what we mean, then we’re close to capturing a biblical principle.
Theologically, the doctrine of creation teaches us that God has designed and outfitted his creatures with particular skills, interests, and abilities, and he has sovereignly placed them in their circumstances to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26–31; Acts 17:26).
Martin Luther and John Calvin rediscovered this biblical doctrine and taught Christians to fulfill their individual callings, whether serving society as a banker, farmer, or homemaker. Giving careful attention to your calling will produce valuable goods for the community and, in the case of mothers, train the next generation. Careful attention to fulfilling your calling will also help keep you out of trouble. Calvin wrote:
The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling. For he knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be turned topsy-turvy, he has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life. And that no one may thoughtlessly transgress his limits, he has named the various kinds of living “callings.” Therefore, each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life.
In other words, constantly daydreaming about a different life, a better line of work, or a new community will lead to instability and lack of productivity. There’s a good chance Calvin would have endorsed my mom’s idiom.
Live the Life God’s Given You
More importantly, it appears that Paul might have approved the parental counsel I received as a young man. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, he tells those anxious over getting married:
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. . . . In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Cor. 7:17, 24)
Paul doesn’t make this an absolute rule, for he tells the slave to be content with his status in life but to seek freedom if possible (1 Cor. 7:22). Those married must remain so, but the unmarried are free to either marry or stay single (1 Cor. 7:9, 27–28).
Nevertheless, Paul recognized wisdom in burrowing yourself into your God-given calling and seeking contentment and productivity there— rather than constantly looking around and pining for something else (cf. Prov. 17:24). Nor does genuine repentance necessarily require a change in one’s work (Luke 3:10–14). But it might—and that’s where we come to a deficiency in the saying, “Bloom where you are planted.”
When to Uproot
The problem isn’t so much in what the phrase says, but what it doesn’t. Without the larger biblical context, the statement “Bloom where you’re planted” could imply that remaining in your calling is all you need to worry about in life.
But this approach wouldn’t account for stations that are overtly sinful and from which a person must “uproot” if they know Christ. Christians cannot abide in Christ and work in the pornography or abortion industry. In such cases, true repentance would lead to “planting” elsewhere.
Short, but Sweet
Yet we can’t fault a proverbial saying for being proverbial. Solomon’s catchy couplets don’t always give us the whole picture, but we don’t chide him.
Diligence, most of the time, leads to abundance (Prov. 12:27; 13:4; 21:5)—but not when famines ravage the land.
Generally speaking, a slack hand causes poverty (Prov. 10:4)—but it’s possible for a sluggard to inherit a large estate.
Whoever keeps his tongue keeps himself out of trouble (Prov. 21:23)—unless unsolicited trouble finds him.
In other words, a good proverb doesn’t need to say everything in order to be helpful or true. For Christians, sayings like “Bloom where you are planted” can be insightful and encouraging since we understand them within a biblical framework. That’s the blessing of biblical discernment all Christians can enjoy, no matter where we’re planted.