The sunflowers were planted with such hope. Children crowded around the small garden bed in the corner of the empty block, carefully lifting each sunflower seedling into its hole, patting the soil down around it and standing back while teenagers brought in the watering cans. A whole congregation of us gathered round and smiled.
These bright flowers were going to be a sign to the community, an unexpected patch of gold in a paddock of dry grass on the edge of the new town centre. ‘What’s that?’ we hoped they’d say, and we could answer, ‘That’s where our new church building is going to be!’
The sunflowers began to grow. In time the flower heads, full of seeds, were turning golden faces to the sun. It was just as we had dreamed.
But… Within a few days in late January, the flowers were gone. Nothing but dead sticks. Flocks of hungry cockatoos had eaten them. A week of extreme dry heat had cooked what was left. This was not what we had planned.
For the followers of Christ, on a hill with grim associations just outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, things were not working out as they had hoped. After what had been a bright, brief flowering of hope, it all seemed to be over. In place of hope, disappointment. In place of trust, betrayal. In place of honesty, craven lies. Grief, shock and loss were darkened with bitter regrets. If only…
There are some things we can do nothing about. There will be those experiences, good or bad, that were never of our choosing. But there will have been those moments when we have chosen, and not chosen well. We have reached a fork in the way, and have chosen a direction that we later regret. As practical as real estate, as intimate as a relationship, as defining as employment, as life-shaping as faith or absence of faith. Those life choices – where we live, who shares our life, what we do with our days and how we understand our world – do not always work out as we had hoped.
Those of us who have earned a full set of wrinkles find it hard to recognise the withering skin and elderly gait as being ourselves; we had imagined, if we ever thought about it, that we were immortal. (I have been aged twenty six for the past forty five years…) Now an obvious truth becomes clearer. Dying is not optional.
The fragility and uncertainties of life have been in sharp focus in recent days. On an unimaginable scale in Haiti. Heartbreaking accidents, violent ends in war zones, fire, storm and flood, untimely death for the young and vulnerable with life cut short in the blink of an eye. People dear and close to me have been experiencing life threatening illness, the death of those they love, and facing their own mortality.
Those first followers of Christ knew regret and fear, with self-blame in the middle of great grief as they watched the dying of Jesus. To their amazement, they would learn that death was not the end. Even though they had made serious mistakes, there could be restoration. Forgiveness was possible. They found that even the most damaged relationships can move toward reconciliation and healing. Even though nothing had turned out as they had hoped, other possibilities that they had never imagined began to appear. Writers speak of ‘an examined life’. It is good, at any age, to take time to reflect on those things that are not turning out as we had hoped. What do we need to do before it is too late?
Our bed of sunflowers had a brief but colourful life. They are gone. In their place, at time of writing, is a builder’s shed, a portable toilet and a fence. Less elegant, perhaps, but a wonderful sign of new things to come for our congregation.* And who knows? Perhaps sunflowers will appear again in surprising places one day.
*Gungahlin Uniting Church, ACT
Margaret Reeson, (2010). Insights Reflection March 2010. Insights magazine. Uniting Church NSW & ACT Synod: Sydney.