Written By: Chris Mace
This delicate, beautiful, isolated plant shines brightly in an unlikely environment. Somehow it has managed to grow and blossom mostly unnoticed in unfriendly, non nourishing, stark surroundings. Some people are like that. Despite adversity, lack of opportunity, and restrictive circumstances, they shine. They seize the day and “bloom where they are planted.” But that is not always an easy task.
Sometimes we are stuck and have to play the hand we are dealt. Not everyone does equally well in similar circumstance. Some people can handle wealth or power or success. Others become greedy, arrogant, and oppressive. Some people arise above adversity and injustices and make the most of their circumstances while others are defeated.
Victor Frankl, an Austrian Psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps said that “the last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…” That may be true. Life frequently does not give us choices except the choice of how we respond. How can we not respond with anger, envy, prolonged grief, or depression when pressed by suffering, loss, hardships, or injustice? The manner with which we deal with life is crucial.
Whether recognized or not, we are all on that journey of discovery. Frankl believed that the search for meaning was a major motivator for how we deal with life. If so where do we look? There are only two places. Either existence is all about us and our self-realization, or there is some greater, grander reason for being.
We obviously find self value in the goodness and purpose of service, or in the comfort and love of friendships, or in the self expression or beauty of art, or other positive experiences. Sometimes our search turns to materialism, or addictions and obsessions or even immoral and criminal behaviors. Whatever our experience, there is always a gnawing discontent, a sense that there is something more.
Both King Solomon and Dylan Thomas hit us with the futility of out passions, goals, pleasures, work, and wealth. The book of Ecclesiastes stuns us with the fact that “all is vanity”. Dylan Thomas’ poem captured the thought that whether “old”, “wise”, “good”, “wild” or “grave” we will not “…go gentle into the good night” but “rage against the dying of the light.” We struggle against the fact that life has been vacuous. We want our lives to have value. And they can! King Solomon pointed out that life is to be lived in light of the overarching facts of creation. We are creatures with a purpose—to be images of God’s character- to know Him, to honor Him, and to enjoy Him.
When the Israelites were taken into Babylonian captivity, there response to subjugation and exile was grief and depression and withdrawal: “Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. ..But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a pagan land?” (Psalm 137:1-4 (NLT2)
But that was not God’s intent for them: “For thus says the LORD: …I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:10-11 (ESV)
Despite the terrible consequences of their idolatry and immoral ways, God loved them, had not deserted them. He wanted them to remember His promise of restoration, to patiently trust, to not give up, and to flourish even in captivity: He told these captives to “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NLT2)
That is a prototype for how we can live. Their God-directed duty was to grow and blossom, to enjoy life, to contribute to their community, to endure in faith, and to have confidence that God that would redeem them as He said He would.
When life is tough and with no relief in sight, hopelessness and despair are natural responses unless one is assured of God’s loving providential wisdom and care. He assures us through Christ. He rescues our spirits through faith in Christ, who has defanged death, freed us from the condemnation of sin, gives joy as we love God and others, and shows us the way to eternal hope. The Apostle Paul lived that life. He suffered persecution, deprivation, sickness, and ultimately death because of his faith. Yet, his letters to the New Testament churches ring with joy and love and contentment because he was centered in his faith and believed God’s way was sufficient: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9
By God’s grace and power, we can be content to be who we are meant to be whatever our skill, potential, or circumstance. Focusing our eyes on Jesus’ teachings and sacrifice for us and trusting in God’s steadfast love and good purposes for us, we can joyfully “bloom where we are planted” as children of God.