Roses are truly amazing plants. They manage to grow and thrive and keep coming back, and they are quite difficult to kill. Sure, they wilt a bit when the midday sun shines down on them too brightly, but they perk right back up in the cool of the day. Then, of course, they go through many stages of growth. And every once in a while, they have to be cut back – you cut them, clip them, prune them until they look as though you’ve killed them. You have to do this so that, in the next season, they can grow bigger and better and more beautiful than before. Now bear with me for a minute, because there is a point to this…
When my family moved to Kenya, we purchased two rosebushes – or sticks, rather, because that is what they looked like. One was yellow and one was a deep pink color. It took time before they looked like much of anything (and I believe they would look even better if they weren’t living in pots). For several months they maintained their stick-like mien, but after a while they grew leaves and began to branch out. The best part, however, is their blooms. I said I bought a yellow rose bush and a pink rose bush. That was true – when I bought them. To me, that is the most fascinating part. I don’t know what other people’s roses do, but every season, mine always bloom a different color. My yellow rose turned “striped” this year – hot pink, orange, and yellow, all blended together in one luscious flower. My pink rose had pale lavender-colored blooms.
When my family lived in Michigan, I had about half a dozen rosebushes that I carefully tended. Gardening isn’t usually my favorite task, but I loved my rose garden. I had one particularly lovely lilac-colored rosebush. One year, however, it didn’t survive the harsh Michigan winter. Come spring, my mom and I dug up what appeared to be a small dead stump with a few straggly roots. At my insistence that it could still “make it” (I seem to have a lot of faith for plants), we put it into a shallow pot of water mixed with rose food and let it sit in the garage. After a good week or so, it was showing signs of – that’s right – life. Oh, how I rejoiced! I promptly went out back and dug a new hole for it near my other roses. Weeks passed and it continued to thrive. Then came the first bud. I watch the buds on my roses closely, wanting to see the moment they open up to share their beauty and fragrance with the world. The bud opened, but it was no longer lilac in color – it was a brilliant shade of sunshine-yellow. When we thought the rose was dead, we were right – in part. You see, the rose was a hybrid, and during the winter, the fragile strain had died, leaving in its place only the variety of rose that was strong enough to survive.
John 15 is a beautiful Scripture passage. Jesus makes our task very clear: we are to bear fruit (or produce blooms!) We are tender plants, firmly anchored in Christ, and God is our Gardener. Sometimes, though, we like to pretend that we are our own care-takers. In that role we are always quite lenient with our pruning because we hope to avoid pain and discomfort. Because of this, we cling to things that are dead – things that only serve to sap our strength. Like the blooms of roses, there is always a certain fragility and transiency about our “blooms.” We keep them for a time, but at some point we usually have to let them go in order to make room for the new ones to grow.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Some seasons are growing seasons and some are blooming seasons. And some seasons are bare seasons – seasons in which we are cut back until we think we can take no more. But our Good Gardener knows just how much He needs to prune us to make us come back more beautiful than before. A rosebush that is never pruned or never goes through a cold season will look nice for awhile but will eventually wither away because it needs those hardships in order to be rid of the weak, nutrient-sapping branches and blooms that have outlived their time.
Sometimes circumstances seem unbearable, and we wonder just how much longer we will last. Yet with every trial, every hardship, every bleak season in our lives, we are being refined and strengthened. Because He is always at work, we can always live with soul-deep joy:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking any good thing.” (James 1:2-4)
Our Gardener is caring for us, rejoicing over each bloom and mourning over each season of hardship and pruning but knowing that His tender ministrations will bring about greater beauty and abundance. You may be in a winter season now, but springtime is coming; the Love-light of our Gardener will cause you to flourish even as His gentle rain nourishes your spirit. So bloom on, little roses; bloom on and take heart knowing that your Gardener is caring for you.