Last weekend, I took advantage of an opportunity to “be still” for a day at a lovely 13-acre property in the country not far from my home in suburban Chicago. After some brief introductory comments and a short prayer, the facilitator turned us loose for six (yes, six!) hours to wait in stillness before the Lord. I stepped out into the crisp spring air and God spoke to me through the sounds, smells, and sights of His creation.
The first thing I noticed was the variety of sounds coming from all directions. Overhead, I could hear the creaking of large tree branches as they swayed in the wind. The tap of a woodpecker as he mined those branches for a meal. Leaves, shrubs, and tall grasses rustling. Birds chirping. Geese honking. As I strolled down to the river, I could hear the splash of fish jumping out of the water. Intruding upon this peaceful symphony, though, was the noise of trucks, motorcycles, and cars coming from the highway. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized what a perfect illustration it was for the peace in which God wants us to dwell, even as busyness, chaos, and turmoil swirl around us. Hebrews 4 (paraphrased) says “Now we who have believed enter that rest…anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from His own work.” God wants us to dwell in His peaceful presence at all times, not just during the occasional retreat, for a couple of hours on Sundays, or for a half hour in the morning. Always. We are not to strive.
The next thing I noticed as I walked were the fragrances. As I headed towards the river, I encountered the fragrances of pungent eucalyptus, fresh mint, aromatic pine, and sweet lilacs. I sat down on a fallen tree to gaze at the lilacs with the river meandering by in the background. Soon I also picked up the musty smell of decomposing leaves and wood. 2 Corinthians 2:14 (paraphrased) says “through us God spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him…we smell of death to those who are perishing, life to those who are being saved.” The fragrance of a flower draws insects to feed on its nectar and pollinate the flower, resulting in life for the insect, and fruit on the plant. The lilac does not have to run to and fro searching for bees to pollinate its flowers. It emits its fragrance, and the bees come. As I live to love Christ and others, people around me will be attracted to that fragrance. Life and fruit will be the natural result.
God spoke through the things I saw in many ways. I observed butterflies, birds of many kinds, half-eaten acorns, and a seemingly endless variety of plants. There were 4 different varieties of violets alone! These spoke of God’s endless provision, power, resources, and goodness. I observed many wild roses springing up along the path. They had no blooms on them yet, because it was too early in the season. In fact, it was so early that they didn’t even have any buds on them yet. All they amounted to was a collection of scraggly, thorny stems popping up out of the ground. Yet they reminded me that God is at work to bring about a beautiful end even when all we can see is thorns (Romans 8:28).
There were many other kinds of plants. As I looked at a eucalyptus tree, I was reminded of the Tree of Life. Revelation 22:2 tells us its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Like the eucalyptus tree and the Tree of Life, some plants have medicinal properties. Some are edible, and some have other useful applications like controlling erosion. Some have been carefully cultivated for the pleasant sound they make when the wind blows. Some have been included simply because they are “pleasing to the eye.” Some transplant and spread quickly while others struggle when they are uprooted. Each has its season. No one goes looking for grapes in April, nor do the daffodils call out to the peonies saying, “Hey! What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you blooming like us?” The dandelion does not criticize the tulip for not having vitamin-rich leaves. Each plant blooms and produces its fruit in its season, and it is absurd for anyone to expect otherwise. Just so, God has made each one of us to bloom in our season. At other times, He is at work as we grow in ways that are less noticeable. I do not have to internalize criticism from others because I do not have the same function or bloom time that they do (1 Corinthians 12).
I have spent most of my life immersed in a performance-based paradigm. God met me here to communicate what I so needed to hear: that He made me and gifted me in the way that pleases Him. He accepts me and I no longer have to wear the shackles of the expectations and criticisms of others. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! (2 Cor 3:17)