I love wildflowers. There is a reason why they grow wild, more than one really. But the main one that I am interested in has to do with their persistence, how well suited they are for the areas wherein they thrive. The pale-purple Missouri cone flowers, one of my favorites, can be seen all over our area both in fields and well as in cultivated gardens. The wind blows the seeds to different areas, and the birds, (I suspect mostly the finches who love to dine on the dry cone seeds) unknowingly drop a few here and there, and suddenly one season without any formal preparation, there erupts another garden of cones!
Another most interesting characteristic about some of these wildflowers has to do with nature’s preparation—the process called “stratification”. This was a new botanical concept for me. The potential flower must first undergo a traumatic period of freezing and cracking of the outer shell for the seed to be brought to life. Without this cracking of the hard shell, which has now served its purpose in protecting the seed within, the whole seed would simply rot in the ground. But as the outer shell’s protection is no longer needed, and through the unpleasant stratification event, the required germination can take place and a new flower makes its way onto the scene. Truly awesome!
Most of us in the human race also have an outer shell. We’re not born with it, but unfortunately through years of hurt and fear, we allow ourselves to be encased, our true selves hidden away for safe keeping. At least it feels safer than the alternative of emotional honesty.
- Sometimes we lather ourselves with a goodly dose of self-pity by accepting the role of victim instead of grasping the responsibility for our future in the light of the reality of our past.
- Or we lock our true desires, interests, longings and even deep concerns far away in the vault of our hearts, for fear of reprisal or ridicule. It’s happened before (whatever “it” is), so why go through that again?
- We feel safe in being shy, or brash, since each characteristic helps us to keep others are arms’ length, a safe distance from getting too close to the truth, our truth.
- The twin sisters of bitterness and unforgiveness make convenient hiding places since they shut people out of any chance for reconciliation—surely it’s easier than the effort it takes to rebuild trust,
…or maybe it just seems that way…?
Whatever our method of perceived self-preservation, this outer shell remains stubbornly intact. The problem is, unless that casing is broken open—stratified liked the wildflowers—the seed of our true selves may eventually rot. And the true life is in the seed, not the shell. The potential to push the dirt aside and grow toward the sun is given only to the seed, not to the seed’s casing. Once full grown and blooming, new seeds are then formed that serve to feed other life, or to plant new life and start the process over again. But it won’t happen that way, unless as Jesus says, the grain falls into the ground and “dies”, thus “producing many others and yields a rich harvest” (1)
Unfortunately, in human terms, stratification hurts. And it usually comes in the very form that caused the shell to mold around us in the first place. How can we learn true courage if we are not forced to face fear? How can we show true compassion if we do not first endure pain? And how can we truly love if we are not first tempted to truly hate? For us, the shell that encases us is one made of our own choices, that is, our responses to life’s harsh realities and circumstances beyond our control.
Jesus, on the other hand, promises that we can bear fruit, and fruit that remains. (2) That is exactly what we are created to do! But as fruit comes only from the seed and not from the casing that houses the seed, so we are to recognize that the true identity within us is an identity provided for us in Christ. We are destined for specific tasks and undertakings that have tags with our names on them, (3). However, these will never be fully realized, or fully bloomed out, until our outer casings are split apart. Only then will the old shell eventually wither away as our new growth pushes through the dirt of our lives, and into the air and sunshine of His purpose and direction.
There’s just no way around it: we must allow for, and even embrace, God’s tearing away—His holy stratification—of our outer shell to allow our true life to emerge. Otherwise, new seeds will not be formed for planting, those people around us that need the nourishment of our talents and gifts will be deprived of them, and scariest of all,
…our “protective” shell will end up becoming our tomb.
(excerpt from God Loves Gardens, by Dawn Jones)
- John 12:24
- John 15:16
- Ephesians 2:10