The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. — Psalm 23:1-3
Looking around the gardens of southern Ohio just now, we see the last of the peony blossoms that have decorated our landscape and our cemeteries for the last month. Most peonies have long since passed their peak and are bending over with the weight of rain soaked, windblown blooms whose glory has faded. At first glance, they seem an unlikely reminder of the promise of the restorative power of the Lord’s love; and yet they are just that.
The peonies, which now seem faded and failing, just a month ago were at their peak, dazzling, bright flowers glistening in the springtime sunshine. Three months ago, however, these same plants were covered with dirt in a dark, cold grave hidden from our view.
What, we ask could have brought about such a dynamic transformation. The answer of course is the warmth of the sun and the life-giving rains of early springtime. That same miracle of transformation and restoration is available to us in our own life in the warmth of the love of the Son of God and the cleaning waters of our baptism through the Holy Spirit. We are a lot more like the peonies than we might think.
Peonies could not bloom in the spring without the cold of the winter, needing at least 400 hours of temperatures below 40 degrees in order to flower in the spring. In warm climates, peonies very often fail to bloom.
Our lives are like this in that we very often do not reach out to the Lord when we are standing in the bright sunshine of life. It is when we are in those cold, dark nights of the soul that we reach out and seek the Light. And, just as the spring sunlight comes every year to the peony, penetrating deep in the dirt, so the Light of God can penetrate the darkest places in our heart and it will do so again and again in our lives. We have only to call out to Him.
Peonies are not all striking beauty and sweet fragrance. There are some aspects of this flower that cause real difficulties when we pick them. A simple, four-letter word describes these difficulties — ANTS.
Ants play an essential role in the blooming of peony flowers. The flower buds produce a nectar that attracts ants, which climb up and help to open the buds in order to get to the nectar inside. All of our lives are full of ants of one kind or another.
Occasionally, our lives are just crawling with “ants” of all descriptions: bills, sickness, loneliness, desperation and the list is endless. But, it is in frustration and pain of these problems that we are willing to reach out and to be open to God’s Word. It is in this Word that we find the power to bloom and grow in His love.
The peonies we have seen in the course of 90 days emerge from a dark grave to flourish in the sunshine will soon begin dry out, fade and eventually to die down. More often than not they will fall victim to a pair of clippers or a lawnmower and then they will blend right in with the grassy field from which they came — until they emerge again next year.
So it is with us, as we face problems which cloud our view of God’s promise for us and we retreat once more to the darkness of doubt and despair. Here again, our lives mirror the peony. A peony is perennial plant that will survive up to 100 years if it is cultivated under optimal conditions. The cycle of cold, dormant darkness in winter is followed by a warm restoration of flowering in the brilliant sunshine of springtime.
This cycle is repeated again and again over the long lifetime of the plant. We are assured too that God’s restorative power in our life has no limit. In all the seasons of our life God is with us. We have only to call upon Him to find ourselves standing in the light of His love.
No matter how many times the lawnmower of life cuts you down, the warm love of the Son of God can and will restore you. Like the peony, you will bloom again … and again … and again.
Debbie Linville is Pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Wilmington.