The tulip’s reminders (OR When you feel ashamed)

I’ve shifted one of the sprouting tulip bulbs from the windowsill to the desk where I’m writing. I need the reminder that God’s life-giving work in us is a process. God doesn’t expect me to bloom before my roots have gone deep and my shoots stretched up green, slowly unfurling toward His light.

I need this reminder over and over, especially when I find myself wrestling once more with old patterns, or wondering again about old beliefs.

At our church, the sermons these months have been from Mark, repeating again and again Jesus’ call to servanthood and sacrifice. And honestly? I’m finding that hard. I know it’s true, and I want to keep being called deeper into faithful living. But another part of me—the part that is tired—wants to curl up and cry. That part easily slips into the shame that comes with feeling I should do more, be more, be better. And then it feels guilty about feeling ashamed.

It’s that part that needs the tulip’s many reminders: first, that life and its growth is a process; second, that the outward work must always rise from what is unseen. Blooms don’t come without roots; servanthood, to be both true and sustainable, must always arise from making my home in Christ’s love.

That part needs this reminder too: discipleship is not one-size-fits-all, but uniquely tailored to our own particular life stories, personalities, weaknesses, and strengths. We’re all called to make our home in God’s love, and to live out that love in service to others. But the details of the call vary from person to person and from one life stage to another. 

God has spent over a decade calling me, through my limitations and Scripture and prayer as well as guidance from trusted fellow pilgrims, to rest in his love. He has showed me again and again that as I do that I’m enabled to love and serve others in ways I couldn’t otherwise do.

My pastor’s vocation, at least right now, seems to involve summoning us back to an awareness that discipleship involves sacrifice, and a willingness to pick up our cross and follow. 

Both of these messages—resting, and stepping out; making my home in Christ’s love, and living that love out to others—are true, and both are important parts of discipleship. But this is what my heart needs to hear today: Just because someone else is receiving and proclaiming a complementary aspect of the truth doesn’t mean that what I’m hearing from God is wrong. It might simply mean that I’m focussing on the roots while someone else is showing the curled crimson edges of the fully open bloom.

The question to guide my life is how God is showing himself to me today. What is he calling me to, on this day, in this stage of my life?

As I listen and follow one step at a time, my eyes on Christ’s face and my home more and more in God’s love, I can be sure that the flower and fruit will come:

“And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” (2 Cor 3:18,The Message, c.f. John 15:4-5)

What the trees are teaching me

The steps where I stretch my calves each morning are covered, now, with crimson and brown and gold. Fragments of life fallen, flung, surrendered for a season in the certainty that what is given up now will be given again in the delicate lace of springtime green after a few months’ rest.
The sunny flowers of the St. John’s wort have shrivelled and shrunk to a crisp brown casket, a temporary hiding place for tiny black seeds, the hope of  life to come.
To the north, a row of trees stands strong and tall, slowly releasing their leaves to drift into bright piles beneath them.

To the east a maple has left its crimson gifts on a blue car during the night, painting its small piece of the world bright with primary colours.

Southward, a poplar lifts its arms, each small fragment of the life it is releasing glowing like living gold in the sun’s rays. It almost seems a celebration—the tree holding up its arms to the sun, the sun revealing the preciousness of each bit of life released, touching it, delighting in it. Is this always how to release things well—to hold up our arms to the One who invites us to press our wounds into His, and as we do so, find ourselves not only comforted but celebrated by the One who gives us life and teaches us to lay it down and gives it all over again, us a little taller and stronger the next year, our arms reaching with even more longing toward Him?

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

I’ve read those verses often. I’ve memorized them. But as I delight in the fall colours and grieve the branches that now stand empty, as I rejoice like a child running through crispy leaf piles and feel sad as I see my favourite red maple now naked, I realize all over again, and more deeply: Freedom involves letting go. And a big part of our transformation into the likeness of Jesus “with ever-increasingly glory” is learning to let go gracefully, even, sometimes, with joy mixed in with the grief because as we let Jesus meet us in the letting go we are receiving the goal of our faith, greater closeness to Jesus.