I don’t normally talk to inanimate objects, but there’s this one time I got mad at a flower.
During this particular day, I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for a ride and happened to look down. That’s when it did it. Or at least, that’s when I noticed what it was doing. A tiny flower, no taller than 2 inches or so, had bloomed in the little patch of dirt. It was pretty and colorful and it was just standing there, being all flowery, and as far as I could tell, happily so. I, on the other hand, completely drained and empty inside, exploded, yelling in my mind, “Why do you even exist??!”
Here’s the context: though only in my early 20’s, I was burning out in ministry and probably showing signs of depression. For me, life had been boiled down to what I accomplished in ministry and the purpose of life was being fruitful (ministry-wise). I was laboring for the sake of what I understood as eternal (visible conversions, explicit discipleship), seeing other parts of life as superfluous and worldly, and by the end of two years I was running on fumes.
I honestly don’t think I was brooding that day, I wasn’t being pensive about the meaning of life or anything like that. I was just so, so tired. And the flower’s existence unexpectedly provoked something in me. What made me so mad was that it seemed so pointless. It wasn’t efficient, effective, or productive in the way that I was understanding things (life?) ought to be. It’s beauty seemed wasteful because of how soon it would die and, well, what did it accomplish?
In hindsight, the heart of the matter was that in my mind, I had conflated what it meant to live for the glory of God to the ministry I did, with other areas of my life (rest, leisure, relationships) given meaning only through what it would bring to productivity in ministry. This flower didn’t fit into my practical theology of life’s purpose, and its existence showed me that I had some obvious gaps in my view of God and life.
That was many years ago, and I have since then grown in my understanding of God, life, and purpose. But at times I still find in myself the same angst rising. I feel the stress of trying to measure my productivity, success, and meaningful use of time in what I can see, or my “fruitfulness”. And when I do that, I become driven by anxiety, discouraged by self-assessments of my work or accomplishments.
And so, God is reminding me of that flower today.
Almost 10 years later, I can still see it. In defiance to my efficiency and ministry results-driven mindset, that little thing just stood. By being what it was, in its beauty and fleetingness, it proclaimed glory to God. And God, in making and purposing it, gave it meaning.
Moses, in Psalm 90, speaks of the ephemeral nature of our lives: We are but dust, a watch in the night, swept away as in a flood, vanishing like a dream, withering like the grass. But in this Psalm, we are also reminded that…
1. Though we vanish as a dream, we are loved and he fills our days with gladness. (Ps 90:14-15)
A.W. Pink writes,
God might have been pleased to satisfy your hunger without the food being pleasing to our palates—how His benevolence appears in the varied flavors He has given to meats, vegetables, and fruits! God has not only given us senses, but also that which gratifies them; this too reveals His goodness. The earth might have been as fertile as it is without being so delightfully variegated. Our physical lives could have been sustained without beautiful flowers to regale our eyes, and exhale sweet perfumes. We might have walked the fields without our ears being saluted by the music of the birds. Whence then, this loveliness, this charm, so freely diffused over the face of nature? Verily, “His tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps. 145:9).
How creation is full of the glory of God and how my life is filled with the blessings that are an overflow of his goodness! (Also, did you note his reference to flowers?) He fills our days with gladness, in laughter, relationships, the skies we have to enjoy, and food that we feast on (and Instagram). God didn’t have to make any of that, but he did! And he fills my days with such grace day after day, so regularly that if I do not consciously take stock of it, I forget! All that has been given to me is to the praise of his goodness and love.
I am dust, but I am loved with an eternal, steadfast love. And though my life is fleeting, he does not count it a waste to pour grace upon grace on my days.
2. Though we fade like grass, our everlasting Maker can establish the work of our hands. (Ps 90:1-2)
In the midst of recent discouragement, I was reminded by a friend that I am to trust God for my fruitfulness. Anxiety falls upon my heart when I start thinking that I am the master of my own fate, relying on my own efforts for meaningful, eternal results.
God has put eternity into our hearts, and he makes us yearn for more and to be part of something that will last beyond our days. Still, if God does not watch over a city or build the house, the guardsmen and builders do their work in vain. (Ps 127) “Whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” (Eccl 3:14).
I am learning thus to trust the work of my hands into a gracious God who in one moment can multiply what I do in ways that I could never accomplish in a thousand years. He calls me to be wise in how I number my days, yes, but to also live in humble dependence upon the one who alone can accomplish eternal things.
So, thank you, God, for filling our days with your presence and joy. Thank you for the true meaning that comes from enjoying and worshipping you. “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Ps. 90:17)
And, little flower, sorry for yelling at you.