It is mid-October. Back in the Spring my 11 year-old brought back a couple of sunflower seeds so she could take part in the annual ‘who can grow the biggest sunflower’ competition. She planted and cared for them until they had grown into two strong, healthy green seedlings, ready to be planted out into larger pots.
They were placed in a sunny spot, watered regularly and fed with appropriate fertilizer.
It soon became clear that all was far from well. Growth was painfully slow, leaves curled and turned brown before dropping off. We persisted in our care, but it had more to do with a sense of duty than a dedicated determination not to give up.
Time passed and each straggly stem forced itself painfully upwards, until one day a tight bud formed on the top. And then everything stopped. Summer came and went, giving way to a warm, sunny autumn. There was no more evidence of growth.
No more evidence of growth, that is, until one day a week ago (mid-October) when a scattering of yellow petals started to emerge from the bud like a butterfly. First one, then the other, started to bloom, the flowers late, small and more than a little scruffy, but sunflowers nevertheless. As I write one of the two is still trying to be what it was made to be. It may not be big and beautiful but it is very special to me.
It reminded me a bit of a story Jesus told to demonstrate God’s patience towards us, and the way that Jesus really is on our side. It’s found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 13 and verses 6 to 9, and concerns a fig tree that was failing to produce any fruit after being left to grow for a reasonable period of time. The gardener persuaded the owner not to write off the tree, but rather to allow him to lavish care and attention on it for a further year, before making any decision about its ultimate fate.
I am reminded that we are often very quick to write off ourselves and others when we do not see the results we expect to in our lives. I also feel that sometimes, especially for those of us who are older, we are written off as unproductive when people fail to remember that sometimes a lifetime of struggle that has failed to flower in the summer of life may bloom beautifully in a season when we least expect it.
I wonder if one of the reasons for slow-blossoming is that all too often I think we have a capacity to forget life-changing lessons that we learn early in life, lessons that might have changed the sort of people we became and even changed the course of our whole lives.
I’ve been re-reading the works of the author Juan Carlos Ortiz. Books like “Disciple”, “The Cry of the Human Heart” and “Living with Jesus Today” made a deep impression on my development as a young Christian in the late 70s and early 80s, but I’m embarrassed at how much of Ortiz teaching has been forgotten or put on one side. If I’d put a fraction of his ideas about living as a Christian in relationship with God and others into practice I’d be a better follower of Jesus and a nicer person as well, I think.
Still, it’s not too late for an autumn blooming…