Last week I visited Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia, PA. They put up a lovely display for the holidays in their enormous greenhouse and then they also do an outdoor light display that provides a delightful winter walk in the evening. I hadn’t been there at Christmastime for several years and I was looking forward to meandering through the poinsettias, orchids, and other gorgeous flowers. I like the lights, too, but there is something about a greenhouse that just really captivates me. Especially one as large and well-maintained as Longwood’s.
As I walked through the different areas, I often stood back in awe. Sometimes I moved closer so that I could see the detail of a flower. I am really no fun to go to a greenhouse with because I am constantly stopping to look at an unusual bloom or to take a photo.
Eventually we got to my least favorite part of the house…the “desert” house. There we found the succulents and cacti. While succulents are rather nice, I really dislike cacti. They are spiky and uncomfortable if you accidentally rub up against them. Some of them look downright dangerous. And there is such a lack of color. Everything is a dusty or tannish green. Very few are bright and vibrant.
But then I saw a group of short cacti planted along the walkway. On top of a few of the bulbs was a bright pinkly-purple color. I leaned closer to see what was causing the color and I realized that this cactus was getting ready to bloom. It was a lovely sight, knowing that this prickly cactus was getting ready to bring forth lovely blooms.
Many of us (probably all of us) have our own “desert” room in life. The prickly people, the sticky or even dangerous situation, the boring, ho-hum job. All of the stuff we don’t like about our lives and would even be tempted to complain about if we didn’t know complaining was a sin! (Oh, alright, yes, the stuff we complain about… we just have to keep working on that one, right??)
But in the midst of that desert room, we can often find unexpected blooms. They often come from the most surprising places and bless our souls immensely.
I am reminded of a quote by Richard Sibbes that I came across yesterday: The depths of our misery can never fall below the depths of God’s mercy.
Those blooms are like God’s mercy, and they are especially wonderful when we need to spend more time in that desert room than we’d prefer.
But sometimes we forget to look for the blooms. I could have easily walked by the cacti at my feet without noticing that slight flush of pink. The blooms don’t always hit us at eye level but can sit close to the ground or sit behind another plant. Oftentimes, the mercy may be just a small thing that, when we reflect back, we recognize that God’s hand was working to encourage and comfort us.
As is the case for so much of the Christian life, seeing the blooms really starts with getting our eyes off of ourselves and on to our God. It’s the purposeful removing of my focus from my own misery and affliction and intentionally trusting God to work out His Sovereign plan. Only then can we see the blooms that God sends on our pathway through the desert room. Of course, most times this is easier said than done, is it not?
Shall we try to look for a bloom or two in our desert rooms today? There may be one right where we least expected it.