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A Necessary Extravagance

Olivia Davis

When I moved out of my parents’ house to Atlanta, GA, my mother gave me a flower vase. It was clear glass with diagonal etchings in it, and it sat under my sink for ten months until my birthday last year, when my boyfriend of six weeks showed up at my apartment with a bouquet of magenta alstroemeria. Suddenly remembering the long-forgotten vase, I pulled it out from under the sink, filled it with flower food and water, and set it on the island in my kitchen so that I could see the flowers every day.

I enjoyed them immediately. For someone who is terrible with house plants (I currently have three that are on their way out), I seemed to be capable of at least changing the water and cutting flower stems. And they rewarded me: their blooms lasted two weeks, and I was delighted each morning when I saw them.

When the petals began to fade, I washed the vase and returned it under my sink. My blank kitchen island now looked empty and sad, and the loss I felt surprised me. However, not long after, I received a dozen roses. I nourished them the same way I had before, changing out the water, adding more flower food, trimming their stems. And they, again, brought me more joy.

This time, when they began to fade, I took things into my own hands and decided to buy myself flowers. However, I found myself in a mental battle on the ten-minute drive to Publix. Was I really about to buy myself something that I would throw away in two weeks? Among the things I needed in life, flowers were not among them—I probably should save an extra few dollars or at least buy someone dinner instead. But, somehow, the joy that the flowers brought me trumped my rationalism, and I left with not one, but two bouquets of white and yellow mums.

When I got home, I mixed the flower food into the water and trimmed the stems. I arranged them in my faithful vase. Each bloom looked like it had hundreds of petals. They seemed perfectly symmetrical, perfect shades of white and yellow, almost glowing in my kitchen like little bulbs declaring the glory of God. My heart was moved to worship: I served a God who delighted to make those flowers. When I finished, I tried to make myself move, to do whatever “practical” items were on my to-do list, but I wanted only to stare at them, those flowers perfectly and beautifully and intricately made by my God.

It often takes some time for me to pull myself out of the cares of this world and worship. For example, on Sunday mornings on my drive to church, I have to choose my music carefully or turn it off and pray, preparing my heart so that it can focus on God when the church service starts. However, when I looked at those mums morning after morning, when I came home from work, or when I sat to eat a meal, my heart instinctively began to think about the kind of God I serve—one who made those flowers in all their scientific precision and all their extravagant beauty. The flowers simply spurred my heart to meditate on God. There was no need to work my heart into worship when I saw those flowers. It was a natural response.

After those beautiful mums faded, I got more roses. When I drove home to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, I put them in a plastic cup in the backseat of my car. I couldn’t bear to throw them away. It felt gratuitous and unnecessary until I put them in a vase in my parents’ kitchen and they revived, unapologetically pink and bold.

When I got COVID in early January and was separated from my boyfriend for two weeks as a result, I opened my door one Sunday morning to find a bouquet of white tulips and a card in his distinctively square handwriting. Again, I began my almost sacred ritual of trimming the stems and arranging them in my vase. And as I watched their blooms expand and their white petals shoot straight upward, as if lifting themselves heavenward in praise, I could not help but stare, my heart in awe of the God who made them.

Perhaps my most meaningful flower memory, though, happened last month. With two new bouquets in my passenger’s seat, I slammed the brakes at a red light, and one fell between the door and the seat. Unable to retrieve it, I drove the rest of the way home worried about its fate. But it looked OK, and I arranged the mixture of mums, miniature daisies, carnations, and bulbs of lilies carefully and gently. Over the next few days, everything perked up well, and two of the lilies bloomed, their white petals curling slightly, their scent crisp and clean. But another lily—one from the crunched bouquet, I figured—had not changed. It was still hidden away in its almond-shaped bulb.

The two lilies began to fade after a few more days, but the one bulb did not budge. I changed the water out often in dismay, until one morning I noticed a change: The very tips of the bulb were a little bit looser. I wondered if it was just shriveling inside, but when I got back from work that afternoon, it looked like they had expanded just the slightest bit more. I forgot about it quickly enough and took a nap. An hour and a half later, I paused on my way out to dinner to take a glass of water from my fridge and noticed that the arrangement looked different.

Sure enough, the lily had bloomed in all its glory. Against the other flowers, its five white petals looked fresh and pure. It was beautiful, and I paused for a moment in involuntary worship that my God cared if my crushed lily bloomed. My mind went to the famous phrase in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount: “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-29). The lily was magnificent. And it didn’t deserve its magnificence—it was simply the recipient of God’s grace. But God delighted to make it beautiful, and He delighted for it to bloom. So it did.

In Ecclesiastes, we read that “He has made everything beautiful in its time…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a). The time for the lily to bloom was precisely the time that I was taking a nap—I did absolutely nothing to deserve to see that lily in full bloom (indeed, my only contribution was crushing the bulb in the first place). The verse continues: “Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b). In his commentary on the verse, Matthew Henry explains,

We have the world so much in our hearts, are so taken up with thoughts and cares of worldly things, and are so exercised in our travail concerning them, that we have neither time nor spirit to eye God’s hand in them.[1]

Flowers remind me that God is a God of abundance—they give me the “time” and “spirit” to see God’s hand. They pull me out of this world and the “thoughts and cares of worldly things” that are so often in my heart—anxiety about my career, relationships, you name it—and remind me that God, while ruling the universe, set a time and a place for that lily to bloom. He is not a God of scarcity but one of abundance, and as His child, I, too, am invited to walk into that abundance. Flowers open the door to that abundance; buying flowers rejects the notion that every dollar I have must be used “practically.” And if the flowers were a gift, the time I spend trimming their stems and removing their leaves and changing their water rejects the notion that every minute I have must be spent on something “productive.”

I believe this is why I now love cut flowers. They are extravagant, but for me, at least, they are necessary. In heaven, there is a chorus of cherubim who constantly say, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord” before the throne of God (Revelation 4). That chorus began long before my world ever existed. And seeing my flowers on my kitchen island prompts the same ancient exclamation in my heart. The flowers take me back to the true things, to not just truth but the foundations of truth itself: God is holy, and God is good. In a world where so many things compete for my attention, they make me focus on the One Who is worthy of it all.

I serve a God who delighted to make alstroemeria, roses, mums, and daises. I serve a God who wanted to make flowers in every shape and every color, who ordains when they bloom. This God lets me see Himself in His creation, and this God cares for me more than He will ever care for those flowers—and look at them!

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[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960), 796.