Humans have an innate appreciation for nature. Except for the occasional bee sting or troublesome allergies, nature often enchants all of our senses. Smelling the crisp scent of evergreens, tasting the salty sea air, feeling the soft grass against our toes, hearing the chirping of the birds, and seeing the beauty of God’s creation around us are a few examples of how we experience and enjoy nature. It is natural and good that we thank God for giving us these good things. But to stop with gratitude would be to limit ourselves to self-centered appreciation of God’s creation. We should step away from our own experience of nature and engage with something much bigger than ourselves. If we allow ourselves to listen, the flowers remind us of the vanity of our own existence and the reality of our eternal value in Christ.
Christina Rossetti, a 19th century poet, is widely known for her gloomy, yet biblically centered poetry. Hope and despair are prevalent themes in her writing. While Rossetti often despairs about earthly griefs, she remains grounded in her eternal hope. In her poetry, Rossetti constantly uses nature to re-ground herself in her hope. In “Consider the Lilies of the Field (p24,25), she writes:
“Flowers preach to us if we will hear…
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read…”
Anyone can smell the flowers and take pleasure in it. However, very few actually learn from the flowers. Learning from the flowers takes humility and a willingness to experience nature in a way much bigger than our own personal enjoyment. It is easiest to view the flowers in their relation to us. “Thank you God for allowing us to enjoy these beautiful flowers.” And that response is perfectly acceptable. However, the flowers can teach us so much more rather than just reinforcing a me-centered existence.
It is the natural human tendency to think of our existence in terms of ourselves. Well, duh, you may say, we are the ones existing. However, in a God-centered universe, we are never the main focus. We may be the ones doing the actual living, but nothing we do can give value to our lives. Yet we are never perfect at living a God-centered life. We forget how fleeting and invaluable we are on our own.
This is not a new problem. In Psalm 90:12, the Psalmist asks God on behalf of the Israelites, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Israel forgot how short their life was. Disobedience to God’s commands is the natural result of forgetting your place in eternity. After experiencing punishment for embarking on a self-centered lifestyle, they come crawling back to God asking him to help them remember. In a God-centered universe, a self-centered lifestyle does not satisfy. Especially when you are being directly punished by God!
Isaiah says, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades… surely the people are grass… but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8). The quickly fading flower reminds us that our “blossom” is but a brief moment in eternity. Hopeless can often be the result of this realization if we view our brief existence simply in terms of our life here on earth. However, investing in an eternal hope through Jesus Christ allows us to live a hope-filled life while here on earth. We live full lives here on earth, all the while knowing our ultimate value is not found in this world. Nature can remind us of how small we are on our own and allow us to re-ground ourselves in truth—that true value can only come through God.
But the flowers’ teaching does not stop there. They remind us of something much greater than our own insignificance. They remind us of God’s great love for us in spite of our puny existence. In Luke, Jesus says “If God so clothes the grass.. how much more will he clothe you(Luke 12:28).” Nature IS beautiful! Even though a flower only blooms for a short time, it is none the less beautiful! So it is with us. Even though we are seemingly insignificant, God values us. Even though our life is but a moment, God concerns himself with the details of our life.
In her poem, “Consider the Lilies of the Field,” Rossetti continues,
Tell of his love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.”
The flowers do not just tell us truths about ourselves, but truths about God, too!
Contrary to what you may be thinking, this is not just a happy go lucky post. Life is not just daisies and roses. Even with a firm understanding of your eternal value and God’s love for you, life sucks sometimes. Sadness is a natural part of life. From Rossetti’s poetry, it seems like she was seriously depressed most of the time. We would be lying to ourselves if we tried to never experience sadness. Even Jesus wept. But at the same time, we should never be guided by our emotions. When experiencing despair, we should always anchor ourselves in our eternal hope. Rossetti got through her darkest moments because of her eternal hope. So also should we, in moments of despair, cling to the One that can never be taken away from us, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Taking a moment to listen to the flowers can help reground you in what is truly valuable.
Whether it’s in the simple hustle and bustle of everyday life or one of your darkest moments, grounding yourself in Christ’s deep love for you gives you strength to carry on. However, being reminded of your true value in Christ is worthless if your actions do not change. Taking a moment to listen to the flowers can help you live your life in a meaningful way.
So next time you are outside, stop and listen to the flowers. What are they saying to you?
“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
*Quotations taken from “Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems.” Penguin Classics.