Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Consider the Daylilies

NOTE: This article was originally printed by Creation Illustrated last summer... sort of. I feel like the editors' good intentions of adding a few things here and there really ruined the rhythm and flow of the writing. Needless to say, that was extremely disappointing. So I am sharing it here as I submitted it to them.

A Garden of Worship

In a creative Bible study I was attending, I was asked “what does worship smell like?” An avid gardener, I was able to answer without hesitation – worship smells like dirt. By dirt I mean soil and along with that the sweet mingling scents of summer air, leaves, damp grass, and blossoms.

After God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden. It was their home, their place of work, their house of worship, and where God would teach them about Himself. They were naked and unashamed and walked in close fellowship with the Creator. Sadly, their sin caused them to be banished from the Garden of Eden. But God in His mercy did not remove the magnificence of nature from the Earth. Even though muted by the Fall, the plant life on this Earth is still incredible, and my garden is one of the places where I feel closest to God. Just as with Adam and Eve, there I learn about my Creator and there I worship Him.

God has given us a vast variety of plant life on this Earth. In my garden, I grow only a miniscule representation – from the evergreen Vinca vine that scrambles aggressively through the border, to the Red Twig Dogwood that stands unpretentious most of the year but then becomes a star in the garden as its leafless branches turn scarlet in the winter. All of my plants teach me something about God. But there is one type of plant in particular that, more than any other I grow, demonstrates to me the truths of my Creator: the Hemerocallis. While very hardy and versatile in the landscape, it is its incredible beauty that reminds me that God will take care of all my needs and is capable of making me into a beautiful creation. And by caring for them and through the growing process, I am reminded that God cares for us through our spiritual growth process.

...Let us, together, consider the Daylily.

God’s Mercy
…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made… (Romans 1:20)

The daylily is so-called because each bloom stays open for just a single day. Each plant is a group of individual sword-like fans of foliage growing from a structure called the crown. Each fan sends up multiple stalks (called scapes) that have multiple buds on them. With a garden full of a variety of daylilies, the possibilities are endless as to the number and type of blooms that will be open on a given day. The garden landscape is new every morning. Like God’s mercy. Because He is merciful, God wants to know us and make Himself known to us, despite our sin. He has chosen to reveal Himself in creation and the magnificent daylily takes its place among all the things that He has made so men may understand Him.

Created for Beauty
So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28-30)

The word Hemerocallis is Greek for “beautiful for a day.” The person who wonders how a flower could be clothed in more splendor than Solomon has never seen hybrid daylilies. While not actually related to the lily, their amazing “attire” and the fact that they are literally here today and gone tomorrow makes daylilies the epitome of the flowers Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6.

Modern daylily hybrids are a far cry from the species daylilies that are still growing wild beside roads and in clumps in front of old farm houses. Often referred to as “ditch lilies” and classified as invasive in some areas, species daylilies multiply rapidly and produce orange or yellow blooms that are pretty, but not extraordinary. Over the last 75 years, hobby and professional hybridizers have been breeding in desirable traits and breeding out unwanted ones, just like with dogs or horses.

I have over 30 different daylily cultivars growing in my smallish front yard gardens. Thirty may seem like a lot, except when you consider that each new seed produces a plant with a unique bloom, and that there are over 60,000 named and registered daylily hybrids. Mine include ‘Spacecoast Sharp Tooth’ – pink with jagged gold edges; ‘Derrick Carr’ –purple so dark it’s almost black covering petals the texture of velvet; ‘Adam Eaton’ – a creamy white that reveals a dusting of tiny sparkles when the sun hits the bloom; and ‘Siloam Doodlebug’ – a cute 3 inch lemon-yellow blossom with a purple-black eyezone.

Is all this variety and good looks a credit to God or to the hybridizers? Hybridizers do the physical work of fertilizing the flowers, planting the mature seeds, waiting a year or more for the seedlings to bloom, and then evaluating the blooms. They then keep the promising ones for further refinement and get rid of the rest. But God created the genetics; He put all that code in there in the first place and then gave man the mind and the ability to work with it to bring out the beauty.
There are two spiritual lessons to be learned here. The first is what Matthew 6:28-30 means on its surface: If God clothes flowers in such glory, of course He will meet our physical needs. With so much potential splendor packed into the genetics of the daylily - a flower that dies after a single day - how can I look at it and doubt God will take care of my needs?

The second lesson grows from that. Just like the daylilies, we were created for beauty – spiritual beauty. If God cares that much about our physical needs, how much more will he care about our spiritual needs?

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Like a hybridizer constantly working to coax the beauty out of the flowers, God is working at every moment to transform us – His bride - into the image of Christ. But our Creator doesn’t have to wait until the seed grows into a mature plant and shows its first bloom. He knows what our blooms will look like and what the next step is to continue our make-over. And we can be sure that God won’t give up and toss us onto the compost heap, unlike the hybridizers sometimes do with the daylilies. As Philippians 1:6 tells us: He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Dug up, cut apart, and moved around.
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

A master gardener considers not just a single plant and all that is necessary to care for it, but also how the one plant relates to and enhances the entire garden. At times, caring for my plants means doing things that will stress them in the short term but highly benefit them and the entire garden in the long term. For a daylily, it often starts with an uprooting.

Sometimes no matter how careful I am in choosing the spot for a new daylily I realize later that I made a bad decision. When everything is blooming, I sometimes find that the colors clash or the new plant is blocking the one behind it, the plant isn’t thriving in that spot, or just that the overall harmony of the garden is off. So I have to dig up plants to move them around.

Another reason I might dig up a daylily is to divide it. A clump of daylilies in full bloom is a breathtaking sight. But as the clump gets bigger, eventually the fans start to crowd each other and the whole plant suffers, producing weak foliage and few blooms. For the health of the plant and the beauty of the garden, it must be divided. After lifting the entire root ball out of the ground, the clump is cut apart using a sharp garden tool. The smaller clumps can then be replanted throughout the garden, given away, or sold.

While God does not make mistakes where He places us, He may need to dig us up from where we have comfortably put down roots because our current location (physically or spiritually) is no longer beneficial to us or to His garden. Perhaps we need to move to a new house, a new church, a new city or country. Maybe He needs us to change jobs, separate ourselves from a connection that is not allowing us to bloom our best, or adjust another major aspect of our lives. This uprooting may be difficult and stressful but God would not have us do it if it weren’t the best thing for us and the Body of Christ.

Far more threatening to the plant than the reasons it may need to be transplanted or divided is the problem of crown rot. The crown is like the heart of a daylily; it is the place from where the roots, leaves and scapes all grow. If the crown is damaged the whole plant will suffer. Symptoms of crown rot include poor growth, yellowing of the leaves, wilting, and mushy tissue on the crown. Once the rot starts to eat away at the crown, it can swiftly kill the entire plant and infect adjacent plants. The infected section of the crown must be cut away from the healthy part or the daylily will die.

Things like unrepentant sin, idolatry, addictions, gossip, etc. cause rot in the heart of the believer. Because God loves us and is committed to making us over into the image of Christ, He has no choice but to uproot us and sharply cut away the rot. Whatever form this takes in our lives, it is not likely to be pleasant at the time, but is done by our Creator out of love.

Like a gardener that does whatever he has to do to take care of his plants, our Master Gardener will do the same, taking care of us so that we will grow healthier in Christ and continue becoming more like Him. As we are uprooted, cut, shifted around, or dispersed we need to remember that God does these things to bring about His purpose “for good to those who love God.”(Romans 8:28)

Greeting life
The daylily blooms have one day to show themselves - one single day to be a part of the creation that reflects who God is. What do they do with it? Some greet the sun as it’s rising, open and happy and ready to give life their best for the time they have. Some slumber a little longer, sleeping in and refusing to open fully until the light and warmth of mid-morning beckons them. And some, obstinately, refuse to open at all, or maybe only a little so the others will think they tried. Our lives on earth are fleeting. We can slumber thinking we’ll get started later or maybe just barely give it an effort. Or we can take that brief time and give it everything we’ve got as a beautiful reflection of Christ in this world.

God is the original Master Gardener. I cannot fathom how perfect and awe-inspiring a garden planted by Him would be. No clashing colors, crown rot, or noxious weeds. No slugs or aphids eating the Hostas and Roses. Because I’m not God, I do have problems controlling things in my garden (my perennials will not live in harmony with the Dandelions) and making sure my plants survive. But as in many areas of our lives, God uses these problems to evidence His mighty nature. As I consider my daylilies and the rest of my garden, I look forward to the day when we can again walk side by side with our Creator and worship Him in a garden of perfection and as perfect beings. Until then, I enjoy what we have here on earth, trusting in my Master’s plan.