I used to watch Mulan every night after dinner. It was 1999, a year after Disney released the animated version of the story I’d grown up with in Chinese classes. Arguably the most well-known female warrior in Chinese folklore, Hua Mulan is a young woman who takes her ageing father’s place in war by masquerading as a man.
Not even of royal descent, she easily embodied the kind of princess I wanted to be at the tender age of 10. Her Disney father, looking at a magnolia bud that had failed to blossom along with the rest, said of his daughter: The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.
Almost 20 years later, I still feel like that late bloomer Mulan was. Late to the adulting party. Late to the programme I’m sure most 28-year-olds would have gotten with by now.
I find myself thinking about that quote when the curveballs of life get a bit too hard to bear.
Can I bloom in the midst of THIS adversity, I wondered as I stared out the bus window one morning after a particularly hard-hitting week. And would God even be concerned about that?
The response came almost immediately. Do you know what comes from flowers? All those Science lessons were not in vain. Buds, shoots, trees – fruits. And fruits are a big deal in the Bible as signs of spiritual growth (Galatians 5:22-23). Of faith.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:8)
I had my answer. Of course God is concerned if I am that flower that blooms in adversity – that bears fruit in drought – trusting and depending on Him in even the fiercest trials. In fact, He sees me as the whole tree – and He is the Great Gardener. In John 15:1-5 we can observe 3 other lessons from the same metaphor:
3 BIBLICAL LESSONS ON BLOOMING IN ADVERSITY:
1. Every branch that does not bear fruit He takes away
We all have areas in our life we don’t need or no longer need. It could be an addiction. An unspoken fear. A character flaw or false belief people have been pointing out. Maybe even a relationship. These things, these branches, don’t bear good fruit (or any fruit at all) and the Holy Spirit will constantly be challenging us to let them go.
To let Him remove them so we stop supplying them with our attention and emotions and focus on feeding what is good and fruitful (Philippians 4:8).
2. Branches are pruned so that they bear more fruit
Pruning isn’t the same as cutting away. It is a thoughtful act of tender loving care with proper techniques involved in order to encourage further growth and future flowering. You could call it fine-tuning a tree, the same way God fine-tunes our whole beings so that we continuously grow in Christlikeness.
He never stops finding areas of our lives that can be nurtured for the even better, even if it may hurt for a little while to be pruned and positioned (Romans 5:3).
3. Apart from abiding in Him we cannot bear fruit
Abiding in the true vine, that is Jesus Christ, means staying close to the Source. It is a constant acknowledgment of God in all our ways and dealings in this life (Proverbs 3:6). Through prayer, we keep Him a part of every decision, thought, feeling and struggle. If we were trees, we would be planted right beside Him, for He is our living water (Psalm 1:3).
How close is His Word to your heart of hearts? Because only in His Presence and standing on His promises can we blossom whatever the season (2 Peter 1:4).
A TALE OF TWO TREES
A few months ago, I was pleased to find the tiniest banana tree in my garden sprouting a large purplish flower, which meant it was going to fruit in a while. The tree was probably the youngest of the lot, at only half the height of the others.
As they always do, the flowers open over time to reveal unformed, miniature bananas that will grow into full-sized fruit. But after a couple of weeks of looking out at the expectant tree from my kitchen window, I had my suspicions about whether the fruits were growing at all. They normally didn’t take that long.
I was right. One day I decided to inspect the flower up close, only to discover that it had shrivelled and died. A miscarriage for the poor little tree! My heart sank; symbolically the fruits had been a message of hope and new life to me. No harvest for us, I sadly informed the rest of the household.
But within the next few days, I was staring out into the backyard again when the familiar sight of a banana flower caught my eye, this time from the largest tree of the lot. This tree had constantly given us fruit for many years. True enough, as I write, it’s due for delivery soon.
Like trees, we must trust the gardener to know what’s best and do what’s right if we want to bear much good fruit for many seasons to come. It may be the removal of dead, useless parts of our lives that we’re wasting precious nutrients on, the longer we keep them around. Or the refining of our character to help us grow in capacity and competency, able to carry fruit to full term.
But if we want to bloom, in both the good times and bad, we cannot forget this one thing: Apart from Him we can do nothing, for only God makes all things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).